Wearing purple vestments, Father Jerome Massimino began Sunday morning's Mass with the announcement that Catholics have a new pope, Francis. "I think it's a pretty cool name, don't you think?" he said.
Parishioners at St. Paul's Catholic Church in northeast St. Petersburg sounded their assent.
On the other side of Tampa Bay, parishioners spoke of their pride and joy about the new pope following a Spanish Mass at Incarnation Catholic Church in Town 'N Country.
"He has a tie to the poor people," said Ana Holguin, 68, who is from Ecuador. "Maybe he's going to bring something different to the church."
Similar scenes played out Sunday at churches sprinkled around the Tampa Bay region. It's clear that the nearly 400,000 Catholics in the five-county Diocese of St. Petersburg are buzzing about the 266th pope, the first one named Francis.
"A lot of Catholics are leaving the church or not attending church," said Richard Haight, 71, a St. Paul's parishioner. "His mission is to get people to come back."
"But the fundamentals are still going to be there," said his friend Wayne Sokalski. "Right to life and the defense of traditional marriage."
They were among a crowd enjoying coffee, doughnuts and fellowship in St. Paul's cafeteria after Mass. Many wore green for St. Patrick's Day.
"I am thrilled about the pope," said Haight's wife, Glenda. "He takes the bus and cooks his own meals. What a humble pope!"
The new pope is definitely a change of pace: The first pope from the Americas. The first Jesuit pope in modern times. A Vatican outsider. A name taken from Francis of Assisi, who renounced wealth for a life of simplicity.
Having a pope whose native language is Spanish is a great blessing for the Latino community, said Incarnation Church parishioner Felix Barrio.
"I'm so happy and so proud and have so much hope for the church," said his fellow parishioner Arnold Paeilla, 44, who was born in Venezuela. "He likes simplicity, and that's what we need for the future of our church."
As for Pope Francis, he delivered his inaugural noon blessing on Sunday from his papal apartment window, speaking to more than 200,000 worshippers in St. Peter's Square. His 15-minute address focused on forgiveness.
The homily for Sunday's Mass at St. Paul's focused on forgiveness as well. Families packed the pews at the St. Petersburg church, which was established in 1925 in the middle of a bunch of scrub pine and swamp.
They sang hymns, their voices echoing off the walls and stained glass windows in the cavernous church hall. They heard Bible readings. They took Holy Communion. They bowed their heads and prayed for the sick, the young, the soldiers, the world.
And they prayed for the pope.