Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, the seat of the city's Catholic archdiocese, worshippers filled pews for a Mass honoring the new pontiff, Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina.
"One cardinal called him 'the holiest man that I've ever known,'" Msgr. Robert Ritchie, St. Patrick's rector, said in his sermon. "And that's what he has to be, for us, for our church, for the problems that exist in the world in which we live; for problems that have infected, and have affected, our holy church, we need a man that is as holy as possibly can be."
New York's archbishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, was in Rome for the conclave that resulted in the election of Pope Francis. Dolan said the newly elected pope will visit his predecessor Benedict XVI on Thursday at the papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.
Joe Robertson, a commodities trader in his 60s heading to Mass in New York, said he was taken aback by the swiftness of the vote for the 76-year-old prelate, whose name he said he couldn't pronounce. He was also surprised by the choice, after much talk in Rome of picking a younger pope "who can handle the physical stress of all the travel," said Robertson, of Fair Haven, N.J.
Still, he added, the ascendancy of a cardinal who for the first time in the modern era was not born in Europe "maybe signals that there's more willingness for change of some type within the church."
But "change" was not how 26-year-old Lorena Ferrer saw the selection of a pope from her part of the world.
"This is great; we are taking our South American Catholicism to the world," said Ferrer, a staunch Catholic born in Venezuela, now living in Panama.
The young business executive was visiting New York and St. Patrick's just as the new pope was named. "And I think with his election, we are going to bring a little of the Latin American culture to the rest of the world," she said. "And we are really Catholics."
She said Francis comes with a theologically conservative brand of Catholicism accompanied by "family values, more respect and more faith" - compared to the more progressive religion some U.S. Catholics are pushing, including female priests.
Minutes after the new pope appeared in St. Peter's Square, Robertson took the change in his church in stride.
He had walked to the cathedral before attending an evening basketball game at Madison Square Garden "just to say a few prayers for the new pope and for myself and my family."