EL PASO, Texas - Armando X. Ochoa, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fresno and apostolic administrator of the El Paso diocese, was happy that a new pope had been elected and even joked about El Paso's situation of not having a bishop.
"Our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, is a Jesuit, in mind and heart and spirit," Ochoa said during a news conference in Fresno, Calif. Wednesday afternoon. "And taking the name of Francis really threw us off. To tell you the truth, I was expecting a call from the nuncio, not announcing the new Holy Father, but expecting they'd named the new bishop of El Paso. That never came but I'm very, very happy to say this was very well received."
Ochoa, who was bishop of El Paso's diocese for 15 years, was assigned to Fresno in Dec. 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI. Ochoa has overseen both dioceses since then.
"I would hope and pray ... once again I'll go to bed invoking our Blessed Mother, that our paperwork is going to be right in front of him (to pick a new bishop for El Paso)," Ochoa said.
Eleven dioceses in the U.S. currently don't have a bishop.
A pope being chosen from Latin Amererica is significant to Ochoa.
"... In the United States, we have almost 1/3 of our Catholics are of Hispanic origin. So consequently, the receiving of a Latin American cardinal, who has now been named the vicar of Christ, certainly has sent a shock wave worldwide but especially in a time in history where the Hispanic presence worldwide is not only an area of prayerful concern, but an area of concern," Ochoa said. "I think that the very fact he was chosen from the southern hemisphere speaks volumes. So many of the Hispanic families are finding themselves disengaging with Catholicism. This is a wonderful way to at least invite them to come on home."
According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, there were 68.3 million Catholics in the U.S. as of 2011. The Catholic population served by the El Paso diocese is 656,035 of 811,739. The El Paso diocese includes more than just El Paso County.
Ochoa said that not a lot is known about Pope Francis.
"He's an insider. He has been in Rome and I think basically, all I can say from an outsider looking in, is that I think the College of Cardinals, guided by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have seen the need possibly to take from within the household of the Vatican someone who knows, in one sense, no pun intended, where the skeletons are buried. And possibly bring a little more light into the accountability and certainly the transparency that at least we on the outside were hearing might be called for at this particular time in the church's history."
Ochoa found it interesting that Pope Francis broke protocol immediately by first speaking in Italian.
"He asked in Italian, for the blessing of the people of Rome. What a beautiful way of saying 'we're all in this together.' May I receive your blessing and then I will impart on you my pontifical blessing?' I think we're off to a wonderful start," Ochoa said.
Ochoa has never had personal contact with Pope Francis .
"The clock is ticking. God willing (it will happen) within the next five years. It was a year ago next month we were in Rome. Theoretically, in about four years and change I will meet Pope Francis for the first time."
Each bishop is required to meet with the pope in Rome every five years to discuss the bishop's diocese.