AS the thick red curtains that were draped over the balcony at the front of St Peter’s basilica slowly parted, the world caught the first glimpse of the new Pope.
An aged man in heavy glasses stood silent and still and at first raised only one hand to administer the smallest of waves.
Where his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI had raised his hands above his head like a victor, Pope Francis I had the calm demeanour of a man acquiescing to his new fate: to lead the Catholic Church through dark and troubled waters.
The former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, he was a Pope of firsts, the first Jesuit to become the successor of St Peter, the first South American to lead the church and the first non-European for more than 1,000 years.
And, perhaps, the first Pope to begin with a gentle joke: “Good Evening” he said in the calm manner of the condemned. “You now 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 did what no other Pope had done before and said he would pray with the people and asked that they pray for him.
“I would like to bless you but I need to ask a favour... I would ask you to pray for God to ask him to bless me. Let us pray silently. Your prayer for me.”
After just five ballots the 115 members of the College of Cardinals had elected an outsider, a humble man who as archbishop of Buenos Aires dispensed with his chauffeur, preferring instead to take the bus, an option no longer available to him.
As Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, the retired archbishop of Westminster said: “I think we are very blessed that we have a humble man.”
Tens of thousands of people who braved cold rain to watch the smokestack atop the Sistine Chapel jumped in joy when white smoke poured out a few minutes past 6pm.
At first there were a few seconds of disappointment as the smoke curled out of the chimney and appeared to be black. Then, in a split second, the crowd erupted with cheers as the smoke was transformed by the ‘miracle’ of a chemical compound from black to grey to a luminous white as the world was alerted in the most ancient of manners - a smoke signal - that the Catholic Church of 1.2 billion members had a new leader.
“Habemus Papam!” or “We have a pope!” cheered the crowds - as the bells of St Peter’s Basilica and churches across Rome pealed.
They cheered again when the doors to the loggia opened, and again when Bergoglio’s name was announced.
Down below the signs declared Viva Il Papa and God Bless The Pope. The flags were from a myriad of nations including the American flag, Italian flag, Swedish flag and a veritable united nations of canvas.
The umbrellas shielded them from the driving rain and icy chill but no one complained about the weather on a night that all would remember.
“I can’t explain how happy I am right now,” said Ben Canete, a 32-year-old Filipino, jumping up and down in excitement.
Pascal from Ghana said: ”I am very very happy to see the white smoke. I was happy that they have made a decision. I thought maybe today or tomorrow but I’m very happy it is today.”
Barbara, an Italian woman who was standing with her daughter said: “We thought we were going to miss it, but it is so incredible to be here and see this magical moment. We are so touched. It is incredible.”
Throughout the crowd Rosary beads were gripped in fingers and hands were held in prayer as the vast crowd waiting to hear the identity of the new Pope, the 262nd link in a human chain stretching back almost two thousand years to St Peter the apostle.
At 6.30pm the Swiss Guards in costumes said to be designed by Leonardo Da Vinci and cradling the polished halberds raised high marched into the square in order to lead the band that played the Vatican’s hymn.
Members of the Italian army joined them in formation as the Italian national anthem was played while the vast crowd joined in a joyous serenade.
Down below thousands more had gathered around the giant screens erected on the surrounding roads.
As the first Pope to be announced in the world of Twitter, thousands of people in the square were taking photographs and tweeting of their excitement to followers across the world.
Out of sight of the world the new Pope had stopped at the Pauline chapel, which is the personal chapel of the Popes to pray in front of the blessed sacrament, before coming out to face the crowd of 100,000 gathered in St Peter’s Square to discover his identity.
Having chosen from an array of small, medium and large robes, the Pope once clothed stood and waited as each of his 114 fellow cardinals lined up to swear their allegiance and promise their fidelity and obedience.
The absolute monarch of the Holy See now faces a monumental task, one not experienced for the last 600 years, as he comes to terms with the presence of a Pope Emeritus, in the form of Pope Benedict XVI who resigned three weeks ago and expects to move back into the Vatican in the coming months to live out the rest of his life in prayer and solitude.
It will be for Pope Francis I to deal with a groaning in-tray of troubles such as sorting out scandal within the Roman Curia, a crisis in the Vatican bank and redeeming the church’s reputation after countless cases of clerical sexual abuse.
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.”
Only the Pope can decide on how a cardinal should be disciplined, but while the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh must wait to learn his fate, the rest of the Catholic world celebrated into the night that the Church once again had a leader. All that remained was to learn, in the forthcoming days, weeks, months and years in which direction he leads .
As Angela from Ireland, who works in Rome, said: “I hope he is a little less conservative and that he will have a good heart, that is important.”