Columbia Catholics react to Pope Francis

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH)--St. Peter's Catholic Church was a full house on Sunday.

It was the first mass for 1.2 billion Roman Catholics around the world under the newly elected Pope Francis.

St. Peter's Director of Hispanic Ministry Maria Smoak said there is a lot of pride within the community; knowing the pontiff is the first Latin pope in history. Pope Francis is from Argentina.

"I was thrilled," Smoak said. "This is a person who understands the plight of Hispanics who are immigrating to other countries. They are proud that this pope speaks Spanish. They are proud that he is one of us."

Smoak has another reason to be excited. She said she is familiar with Pope Francis; and about 10 years ago, they exchanged emails.

"St. Peter's was adopting a church in Buenos Aires, Argentina," Smoak said. "I had to get his permission and get some documentation about his church. So I was given his name as a cardinal, and I sent him an email. He promptly responded back. I went and actually found my documents that I have from him."

Deacon John Stetar said Pope Francis was elected because he is a humble man who lives a simple life; and places emphasis on serving the poor.

"I have always had a close relationship with Jesuits and highly respect them," Stetar said. "They are thinkers in the church. Not that other people aren't, but that is a part of their order. God can use him in his work as an example for the rest of us."

Both say Pope Francis will face some challenges in light of growing scandals in the church, but say prayer will overcome those obstacles.

"Throughout history, there has always been some type of scandal, some type of adversity," Stetar said. "This is one of the things we handle with god's help. It is not going to go away."

"The only thing we can do is pray that god will guide him; and will illuminate him to be able to resolve those things," Smoak said.

Prayer they believe will be answered in the years ahead.