(WBIR-West Knoxville) As Catholics celebrate Ash Wednesday, it's also close to the anniversary of Pope Francis' first year as pontiff.

"I think Pope Francis is going to turn our church around. He is for the common people," Faye Teeple, a parishoner at Sacred Heart Cathedral said after she got her ashes.

At the West Knoxville Catholic church, leaders said there was an infused sense of excitement in their religion, all culminating to this Ash Wednesday.

"The turnout has been incredible. We had two 8:05 masses that were packed, but even before that, we had a 6:30 a.m. mass and we had over 100 for that which was a pleasant surprise," said Father Joe Reed.

Extra seats were brought in, as person after person got their ashes -- more than 1,500 at Sacred Heart -- and that was before the night services.

"We actually see numbers like that frequently, but not on a Wednesday," Father Reed added.

The church, and its people celebrate their spiritual leader who many say continues to drive the church forward.

"And we are into trying to serve this 40 days with our lord," Teeple added.

Read or Share this story: http://on.wbir.com/1ibIj8e