Valley Roman Catholics say they are elated with the selection Wednesday of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as the new pope -- the first from Latin America.
"It's exciting to see he's from Argentina -- and not from Europe," said Maria Romo, a parishioner at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in southwest Fresno. "We're more identified with him."
Smiling, she added: "He's from our side of town. He's one of us. This papacy doesn't seem foreign to us now."
Other Valley Catholics -- both clergy and laity -- said they were pleased with the election of the first Latin American pope.
"The College of Cardinals sent a message about the large Hispanic presence that needs addressing," said Bishop Armando X. Ochoa of the Roman Catholic Diocese in a news conference at the diocese's headquarters in central Fresno. "The College of Cardinals heard anxiety among the 19 cardinals from Latin and Central America. They were saying, 'Our voice needs to be taken in.' "
Ochoa pointed out that a third of Catholics in the United States are Hispanic. There are 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide.
Others said the new pope's ethnicity didn't matter to them. They were just happy the Catholic Church has new leadership.
At St. John's Cathedral in downtown Fresno, a special white draping with green bows was hung on the Cathedral's front doors -- a symbol of joy for the selection of the new pope.
Monica Sanchez, a St. John's parishioner, said she hopes the pope especially helps the poor throughout the world -- and addresses the priests' sex-abuse scandal.
"I want him to stop it," she said.
The pope chose to go by Pope Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi because he is a lover of the poor.
Students at San Joaquin Memorial High School, one of the Diocese of Fresno's two Catholic high schools, aren't allowed to use cellphones during school. So they relied on teachers giving them information from live TV reports.
"All the teachers were telling us in the halls what was going on," said Christina DeRuyter, a senior and daughter of Fresno State football coach Tim DeRuyter.
"We're all very excited here. It's cool to be at a Catholic school and talk about something as momentous as this."
The Rev. James Rude, director of social justice for the Diocese of Fresno, believes it is significant that Bergoglio is the first Jesuit priest to become pope.
"Jesuits work in the mission territory," he said. "Maybe that's what is happening with the Catholic Church -- a mission church. We have so much work to do."
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno will hold a special prayer service for the pope as part of its annual Diocesan Holy Chrism Mass at 2 p.m. March 21 at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, 355 E. Champlain Drive. Details: (559) 488-7400.