New pope will lead increasingly diverse parishes in U.S.

(CBS News) NEW YORK - As the cardinals in Rome choose a new pope, CBS News took a closer look at the flock he will be leading in the United States.

As the demographics of the country have changed, so has the makeup of American parishes.

The Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn has been the first stop for generations of immigrants. Well-trimmed yards hold many icons of faith.

Full Coverage: Change at the Vatican
Timothy Dolan: Boundless charm, but limited Italian
Hispanics predicted to become majority in California in 2014
Census: Whites no longer a majority in U.S. by 2043

Monsignor David Cassato is pastor of Saint Athansius Church.

"In the early days of this parish, there were many German parishioners, then it became very Irish and then in the 60s it became very Italian," he said. "It's been a parish of immigrants for years and years and years."

Monsignor David Cassato
Monsignor David Cassato
CBS News

Many of those Italian-American families have since moved away. The single Italian language mass plays to mostly empty pews in the basement.

The main event these days is upstairs: Three Spanish masses are packed with new immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala.

"We started the Spanish mass about 15 years ago, maybe with about 50, 60 people. And it has grown now to be almost 1000 people," said Cassato.

Without the Spanish community, he said, his church would "be a little quiet, I think. It would be a little too quiet."

Twenty years ago, about one in five American Catholics were Hispanic. Now it's one in three. Seventy percent of new Catholics are of Hispanic heritage.

Constantino Bravo
Constantino Bravo
CBS News

Constantino Bravo manages a popular diner four blocks from Saint Athanasius. He was among the first Spanish-speakers there, when he came from Mexico in 1985.

When asked if there is a word in Spanish he would use to describe the congregation there, Bravo listed several: "Demasiado imensa, mucha devocion, grande, rica porque nuestra Iglesia es rica."

He mentioned "rich faith" and "immense faith."

"I got no idea how we can live, or build a family without faith, without church," Bravo said.

50 years ago, the typical Saint Athansius schoolroom looked like this. Today, the class size is smaller, but its composition gives Monsignor Cassato hope.

"When I walk into that third grade class, you see the diversity, and it says 'we're doing the right thing.' We're reaching out to all God's children in all different cultures and parts of the world," Cassato said.

A new generation of American Catholics that he expects will be the foundation of the church in years to come.