VATICAN CITY – New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez sounded hopeful that the new pope would be just the thing to reinvigorate Catholics around the world and fix any problems that are lingering from recent scandals.
“I think this is a pope that can unify because he knows… he lived a simple life,” Martinez said in an exclusive interview with Fox News Latino shortly before Pope Francis’ inauguration. “He is a part of the ordinary people, yet his Excellency as the pope.”
The Republican governor is in Rome with a U.S. delegation led by Vice President Joseph Biden to greet Pope Francis and attend his inauguration and first mass as pope.
“I sit back and I think ‘Who am I to have been chosen?’” said Martinez. “I think there are so many governors and so many leaders in the country. Why me?”
Martinez wasn’t the only prominent Hispanic to make the trip to the Vatican. Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman and Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (R-TX) also attended.
"The pride and the joy that many of us who are Hispanic feel is due to the fact that for the first time we have a Pope who was chosen from a Latin American country,” Hinojosa said in a statement. “To many of us Latinos, our new Pope is a sign that the Catholic Church has come to recognize the growing number of faithful followers from around the world who are Latino."
Martinez said she doesn’t believe the new pope will garner Latino support just because he himself is a Latino from Argentina.
“We are independent thinkers,” said Martinez. “Yes, we are excited as a people but we are also awaiting his leadership and what path he takes.”
Though a devout Catholic, Martinez acknowledges the church made mistakes during the sexual abuse scandal that has plagued the church in recent years and said the church should apologize.
“When there is a crisis, how you handle the crisis is just as important as the crisis,” said Martinez, who believes that the church should have publicly acknowledged their mistakes and the corrective actions they were taking.
In the interview, Martinez’s voice began to break and her eyes became glassy as she remembered the day her mother died. The papal inauguration fell on the anniversary of her mother’s death, and the governor recalled how much her mother meant to her. After her mother died, the governor became the main caretaker of her sister, who has special needs.
“That day was very difficult for me and my sister,” Martinez said. “As my sister refers to her, she lost her mommy. She’s 55 now, I became her guardian. So to my sister it was an enormous loss.”
Martinez said she hoped the new pope would bless a photo she had of her mother during her first communion.
“Knowing it’s the anniversary of the date of her death it’s going to be… much more special for me,” Martinez said.
Martinez’s mother, Paula, died in 2006 from cancer.
When asked what she would pray for, Martinez said she would pray for her family, her New Mexican constituents and Pope Francis.
“I will definitely pray for my family,” said Martinez. “That we recover well from the death of my mother and my father.”
Martinez’s father, Jake, died this past December.
“I also pray for the pope that he’s able to bring together those who have left the church,” she said.
Follow Victor Garcia on Twitter @MrVicGarcia.
The interview was conducted by Bryan Llenas.