Catholics in Western Oregon warmed by election of new pope

EUGENE, Ore. - Father Ron Nelson sat at a desk at St. Mary's Catholic Church all morning, anticipating the white smoke signaling the election of the new pope.

"It's a wonderful moment to know that the new successor of Peter is being chosen," Nelson said.

Father Ignacio Llorente from Argentina is a missionary living on the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis.

"It's amazing," he said. "It's great joy because it's someone very close, from the same country."

Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking," told KVAL News she is encouraged by the new pope's choice of names: Francis.

"That the kind of leadership he'll do will be about a central focus for justice and being on the side of poor people, as Jesus, and that it's about non-violence," she said.

In Roseburg, Father Panneer Selvam at St. Joseph's Catholic Church saw a unifying message for the flock.

"The Catholic church is all over the world," he said, "and by electing a pope from Argentina, the church has shown the universality of the church."

At St. Mary's Catholic Church in Eugene, Catholics said they were excited to hear the news about the newly elected Pope Francis, the first pope ever from the Americas.

"I was quite stunned when the name came out," said Julie Rutledge-Sanchez. "I thought it was Italian, then I said no, I think they said Argentina, so it was great."

Catholics know St. Francis as a man who gave up wealth to live among the poor.

Valerie Wilhilt finds it interesting the new pope chose that name.

"I'm excited to see who he is," she said. "A Jesuit with the name of Francis; I think that says a lot."

"St. francis was called to rebuild the church, which I think is very appropriate for the church," Rutledge-Sanchez said, "and these days we're coming out of a very difficult period for many people, a very demoralizing period."

Wilhilt said she hopes Pope Francis will make some changes in the church.

"I do see a better way of talking about gay love and more reasonable attitude towards contraception," she said.