Bishop Robert Lynch, Diocese of St. Petersburg, released a welcome letter congratulating Pope Francis on Wednesday afternoon on his selection as the 266th pope.
"Your Holiness, the priests, deacons, religious and laity of the Church of St. Petersburg in the United Sates of America send you their love and prayers on the occasion of your election to the See of St. Peter and embrace you as our universal pastor. Our hearts are full of gratitude today to our gracious God and to the Holy Spirit and to your electors for choosing you for this awesome Petrine ministry. We also thank you for your generous 'yes'.
Promising you our filial support and wishing you every blessing."
According to the Associated Press, the 76-year-old Pope was selected the 266th pontiff in a brief five-ballot conclave. The AP reported the cardinals, "clearly decided that they didn't need a vigorous, young pope who would reign for decades but rather a seasoned, popular pastor who would draw followers to the faith."
Francis asked for prayers for himself, and for retired Pope Benedict XVI, whose surprising resignation paved the way for the conclave that brought the first Jesuit to the papacy.
"Brothers and sisters, good evening," Francis said to wild cheers in his first public remarks as pontiff. "You know that the work of the conclave is to give a bishop to Rome. It seems as if my brother cardinals went to find him from the end of the earth. Thank you for the welcome."
The Diocese of St. Petersburg has announced a Mass of Thanksgiving at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 13 at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Lutz. The public is invited.
The Diocese covers 3,177 square miles in five counties, including Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco. It serves a total population of about 2.9 million, of whom more than 425,000 are Catholic, according to the Diocese website.
New Port Richey Patch Facebook fans reacted to the news.
"I think it's a bit ridiculous...but, im not Catholic, thank god," wrote Rhema Buker. "So I won't give my full opinion."
Barbara Schmitt-Miller had a different take.
"Well, I think it remains to be seen what changes he will make," she wrote. "First Jesuit, First Latin American, First Fransico.....maybe there will be a bunch of 'firsts' with this one."
"I am excited and cannot wait to see what he does and to learn more about him," wrote Cathy Taylor Tyson.
Patty Flynn Ritter is anxious to learn more about the new pope.
"The fact that he is from Argentina is different as well as his father was Italian and immigrated to Argentina.... Will be interesting to find out what his thoughts are," she wrote.
What do you think about Pope Francis' selection? Share your thoughts in the comments section.