Pastors of Catholic churches here joined leaders of Mississippi's two dioceses in offering prayers and support to Pope Francis in the wake of his selection last week.

The Rev. Augustine Palimattam, pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church on Byrd Avenue, said he was impressed by the new Pope's talk on courage.

"Being a man of courage, he invited everyone to be courageous, to walk in the presence of the Lord . . . and to build the church with the blood of Christ," Palimattam said. "This includes everything: an invitation to be a perfect Christian, to be a good parent, child, etc."

The Rev. Bob Goodyear, pastor of Holy Rosary Catholic Church at Tucker, said he was surprised when the new Pope appeared on the balcony.

"Like everyone else I was surprised when the man now named Francis walked out on the balcony and asked us to bless him and pray for him," Goodyear said. "He looked so humble in a simple white cassock. He has been Pope for only a few days now but the more I learn about him, the more I am convinced he was truly chosen by the grace of the Holy Spirit as the Vicar of Christ on earth."

Pope Benedict XVI [now Pope Emeritus] surprised the world last month by becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to resign, Palimattam said.

It took the world leaders, and particularly the church leaders and the faithful, a while to absorb the unexpected news, he said.

"But no sooner had the fact sunk in, than speculations began about who the next Pope would be. We all prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And we have a Pope, Francis."

Palimattam said the new Pope had already posted his first tweet to engage with move than 3 million followers on his personal Twitter account:

The tweet said: "Pray for me. Dear friends, I thank you from my heart and ask you to continue to pray for me."

The Pope tweeted from the @Pontifex account, which was previously used by Benedict XVI.

"He realizes that he needs our prayers and he counts on it. So let us be reminded about the need of praying for our Pope everyday. The more responsibility . . . the more challenges . . . etc.," Palimattam said.

The new pope chose the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi, a humble monk who saw a vision of Christ and was told to "rebuild my church."

"I think it is symbolic that the new Pope will be officially installed on the feast day of St. Joseph, the man chosen by God to be a father to the Son of God, to nourish, protect, and teach the child who was God," Goodyear said.

The pastor said he was inspired by everything he has seen and heard about Pope Francis.

"Someone once said, 'Preach the Gospel always and when absolutely necessary use words.' Pope Francis has already proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus by his example of humility, his concern for the poor, and his own poverty. The Holy Spirit has chosen the right man to lead and renew His Church."

Bishop Joseph Latino of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, which includes Holy Cross and Holy Rosary churches, said in a statement that the new Pope's burdens would be great.

"This will be an enormous challenge ... in a world that is becoming more and more hostile to Christianity and religion in general ... He will have to be a staunch and unyielding defender of the respect for the dignity of the human person in a world where individuals are very often treated as commodities," he said.

However, Latino said he has faith that Pope Francis will be a beacon of hope for the 1.2 billion Catholics across the globe.

"A new era in our church has begun," he said. "We as a church will be refreshed as we continue our 2,000-year mission of bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ into the whole world."