Even though many of the people watching with anticipation were not Catholic, local residents said they were anxiously awaiting the announcement and watching with excitement the pomp and circumstance in the square outside the Vatican on Wednesday afternoon.
"That didn't take long," one resident posted on Facebook. "I'm not Catholic, but I'm still excited."
And with a puff of white smoke not long after 2 p.m. they knew history had been made. The 1.2 billion Catholics, and indeed the world, had a new Pope. It was another hour before the announcement was made. This was followed by a press conference in Atlanta by the Most Reverend Luis R. Zarama, Auxiliary Bishop of Atlanta congratulating the new pope - Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, now just simply Pope Francis.
“This was an emotional, powerful moment for us," Zarama said. "Pope Francis – a beautiful name – the first to choose Francis. He is a very simple man. … a pope of the people. It’s very clear from the way he approached the people and asked them to bless him and pray for him. It’s a beautiful sign of closeness and humility.”
Zarma said he had to "hold my tears," saying the moment was "very emotional, powerful.”
Pope Francis is the first pope ever from the Americas and the first Latino pope. Zarma said it is too soon to tell what the choice of a Latino pope means.
"As a Latino, he will have a warm way to approach the people. This pope will give a great opportunity for us to feel close to him,” he said.
A poster on Loganville-Grayson Patch said she believed Pope Francis was a good choice.
"There is a feeling of peace surrounding him. A positive move for the Catholic Faith," she wrote.
Another person reflected on the choice of name for Pope Francis on Snellville Patch's Facebook page: "I love that so much symbolic thought went into Pope Francis name and his words and demeanor. Picking the name Francis of Assisi, the great and humble reformer certainly creates some big shoes to fill, but from what I'm hearing and reading about this man, he is more than capable. Though I'm not Catholic, I'll pray for him and for those he leads as they move through this pretty iconic time in their history."
Archbishop Wilton Gregory, speaking in Rome on ABC News, commented on how Pope Francis had asked for people around the world to pray for him. "I think at that moment he won the heart of all of the Romans, if not of all of the world. He is a holy man."
Gregory said that the Cardinal has a reputation of personal holiness, "that he is so committed to serving the poor, living simply; calling people to holiness in such a simple way that it is almost impossible to say 'no.'"
Cardinal Bergoglio, 76, was elevated to the College of Cardinals on February 21, 2001, in Rome. He was born on December 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires. Ordained a priest for the Jesuits in 1969, he was ordained a bishop in 1992. He was appointed coadjutor archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1997, succeeding Cardinal Antonio Quarracino on February 28, 1998.
The historic event that culminated in the election on March 13 of Pope Francis beginning a new era in the Catholic Church began earlier in the year when Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation effective Feb. 28. Fears that the Holy Easter Season would arrive without a new pope in place have now been put to rest.
In Walton County, only 1.7 percent of the population, 1,068 of the 83,768 residents claim to be Catholic. That shows an increase in practicing Catholics since the 2000 Census when only 1.24 percent of the population were Catholic. There is a much larger population in Gwinnett and many more of the residents are practicing Catholics. In the 2010 Census, 67,781, 8.42 percent of the 805,321 residents, claimed to be Catholic.
What do you think the election of a pope that by all accounts is considered a humble man, a Pope of the people, will mean for the Catholic Church? Do you think it will help heal some of the scandals that have plagued the church in recent years.