Local Latino Catholics welcome new Spanish-speaking pope

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ALTOONA, Wis. (WEAU) -- The recent election of Pope Francis is a source of pride for Spanish speakers around the world and right here in the Chippewa Valley.

Prayers in español have been booming through St. Mary's Catholic Church in Altoona for the past seven years.

“This summer we got it going weekly, it had been once a month before I got here,” said Father Derek Sakowski, who leads the Spanish service.

The area's only Spanish language mass took on new meaning Sunday, because it's the first time the worshiper's pope has had the same native tongue as them.

“It's a blessing. We're lucky and very proud of him and of our community,” said Carmen Nunez of Eau Claire.

The bishop from Argentina turned Pope Francis, is the first leader of the Catholic faith from South America and the new world.

“He seems to be such a holy and humble guy, I think there’s enthusiasm and excitement right now over that,” Father Sakowski said.

“He's asking people to take care of the poor, he even told the Argentinians ‘Don’t come and see me, it’s too expensive, so spend money instead on the poor’,” said Alma Koenig of Eau Claire.

Right now about 39 percent of the catholic faith is Latino.

“The Spanish-speaking world is really going to be the single biggest block of the catholic population in the world over the coming decades and he's clearly going to represent that,” said Father Sakowski.

The Latino population in the Chippewa Valley is growing, and church goers told WEAU 13 News that the Spanish service provides an important link to the community.

“I think job opportunities are there and it's better than other states. We're growing, it's nice to have a little camaraderie and get together and say hello to all our friends,” Nunez said.

“I think they started with 15 people, and now Father Derek said today that they had over 90 today, and I hope it keeps growing,” Koenig said.

The catholic mass in Spanish starts at 1 p.m. on Sundays.

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