THE white smoke from the Sistine chapel alerted the world that the Catholic Church had a new leader last night as cardinals in conclave elected Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as Pope Francis.
Emerging onto the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, clad in the white robes of the successor to St Peter, the first Jesuit Pope in history and the first from South America enjoyed the cheers of a vast crowd and the surprise of many papal pundits, who had predicted a long, drawn-out conclave following the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.
Viewed as an outsider who must now wrestle with the seismic problems of corruption within the Vatican, problems with the Vatican bank and the repercussions of the clerical sex abuse scandal, the 76-year-old new pope began with a gentle joke: “Good evening. You know that the duty of the conclave was to provide Rome with a bishop, it looks as if the cardinals went to fetch him from the end of the world.”
He then went on to pray for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whose sudden retirement last month triggered the conclave.
“Let us pray for him so that God will bless him and the Madonna will look after him,” he said.
In a signal of what Pope Francis now faces upon taking over the church during this troubled period, he asked the people to pray for him and added: “Let us start working together and walking together in the Church … Let us pray for each other and for the entire world because there is a great brotherhood in the world.”
He addressed the masses gathered in St Peter’s Square just over an hour after white smoke first signalled his election.
“The world should set off on a path of love and fraternity,” he said.
“I would like to thank you for your welcome, the community of Rome, its brotherhood, I thank you.
“Above all, I would like to pray for Pope Benedict XVI.”
Minutes later, a message was sent from the official papal Twitter account, which had been reactivated, reading: “HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM” – which roughly translates as “We have Pope Francis”.
Elected on the fifth ballot, Francis was chosen in one of the fastest conclaves in years, remarkable given there was no clear frontrunner going into the vote and that the church had been in turmoil following the upheaval unleashed by Benedict’s surprise resignation.
A winner must receive 77 votes, or two-thirds of the 115, to be named pope. Benedict was elected on the fourth ballot in 2005 but he was the clear frontrunner.
Pope John Paul II was elected on the eighth ballot in 1978 to become the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.
One of his first responsibilities will be to decide how to respond to Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s confession that “my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal”.
The former head of the Catholic Church in Scotland resigned as an archbishop just days before the departure of Pope Benedict amid allegations of sexual misconduct against younger priests.
Scotland’s most senior Catholic cleric, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, Archbishop of Glasgow and president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said: “I was surprised that the conclave was so quick. It took hardly any longer than the election of Benedict XVI.
“Given the pre-conclave situation, and the absence of a single dominant figure, I can only see this quick result as God’s work. As soon as I heard I went into my chapel and offered a grateful and joyful prayer of thanksgiving … Deo Gratias!”
Archbishop Tartaglia added: “He is a man of firsts. The first Latin American. The first Jesuit. The first Pope Francis. I think we can take from his first appearance that he is a humble, spiritual and calm man. A reconciler and healer, with a strong background on social justice.
“His name reminds us of the little saint of Assisi. A simple man who was the poor servant of Jesus and who was given the message ‘rebuild my church’. It is a very significant message for our time.
“He may also have in mind St Francis Xavier, the great missionary and a reminder of the need for a new evangelisation.
“We missed having a Pope. Catholics feel the need for Peter. We now have Peter back. The new Pope will give us joy and confidence.”
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster said the choice of Pope Francis was a “surprise”.
He added: “On behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, I wish to express my great joy at the news of the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the 265th Successor of St Peter and supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church.
“As he begins his new apostolic ministry, as the Bishop of Rome and shepherd of the universal church, Pope Francis I may be assured of the prayers and loving support of the Catholic community throughout England and Wales.”
Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted that is was a “momentous day” for Catholics.
Liz Leydon, editor of the Scottish Catholic Observer, said: “It’s very good news, and an uplifting sign of things to come, that we have a Jesuit pope, because that speaks to how simple and straightforward his faith is, and how humble a pope he is likely to be.
“He’s a student of Pope Benedict and he was thought to have been second at the last conclave, but he’s from Latin America and will bring a fresh perspective to the Vatican. He’s thought to have very traditional views on such areas as marriage and pro-life issues.
“He’ll be welcomed with open arms, but there’s a lot of speculation as to whether the cardinals couldn’t come to agreement on a European pope.
“I think it bodes well for the future of the pontificate, and a wonderful sign as we approach Easter for the rebirth of the church.”
Last night, Latin Americans reacted with joy, bursting into tears and cheers at news that an Argentine cardinal has become the first pope from the southern hemisphere.
“It’s incredible,” said Martha Ruiz, 60, who was weeping tears of emotion after learning that the cardinal she knew as Jorge Mario Bergoglio will now be Pope Francis I.
She said she had been in many meetings with the cardinal and said: “He is a man who transmits great serenity.”
Cars sounded their horns as the news spread and television announcers screamed with elation and surprise. There was excitement as well elsewhere. At the St Francis of Assisi church in the colonial Old San Juan district in Puerto Rico, church secretary Antonia Veloz exchanged jubilant high-fives with Jose Antonio Cruz, a Franciscan friar.
In Panama City, public relations executive Nelsa Aponte said with teary eyes: “This made me cry, I had to get out my handkerchief. We have a new pastor, and for the first time, he is from Latin America.”
Yesterday, the new Pope was described by his biographer as a balancing force with monk-like habits who is media shy and deeply concerned about the social inequalities rife in his homeland and elsewhere in Latin America. “His character is in every way that of a moderate,” said Francesca Ambrogetti, who co-authored a biography of Bergoglio after carrying out a series of interviews with him over three years.
“He is absolutely capable of undertaking the necessary renovation without any leaps into the unknown. He would be a balancing force. He shares the view that the church should have a missionary role, that gets out to meet people, that is active … a church that does not so much regulate the faith as promote and facilitate it,” she added.
“His lifestyle is sober and austere. That’s the way he lives. He travels on the underground, the bus, when he goes to Rome he flies economy class.”
For good or bad, and as the cheering of the crowd testified those days are gone.
A papal first
Francis, the name the new pope has chosen, is an Italian saint who is identified with peace, poverty and a simple lifestyle.
Jorge Bergoglio is the first pontiff to adopt the name of Francis, the rich young man from Assisi who renounced wealth and founded the Franciscan order of friars in 1290.
The choice may foretell the pope’s priorities in striving to bring a sense of serenity to the church.
St Francis is said to have been called by God to repair a church in ruins.
Taking the name of one of Italy’s patron saints ties the new pope to Italy, the native land of many popes.
World is all atwitter over Vatican news
As he took over the reins of the Catholic Church last night, Francis was also given control of the papal Twitter account set up by his predecessor – @pontifex.
A message was sent from the official papal Twitter account, which had been reactivated, shortly after Francis appeared on the balcony at the Vatican, that read: “HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM” – which roughly translates as “We have Pope Francis.”
According to Twitter, there were 130,000 tweets per minute about the new Pope as he was revealed to the world.
Pontiff faces wait to move into home
Pope Francis cannot move into the papal apartment just yet.
He will remain with the cardinals at the Vatican’s Santa Marta hotel, a modern hotel on the edge of the Vatican gardens, where they have been sequestered since the beginning of the Conclave.
He spent his first night as pontiff in a room that features a bed with a dark wood headboard and a carved image of Christ’s face, as well as a sitting area and a study. The Pope is expected to stay there for a few weeks until the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace can be renovated.
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