With a puff of white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel and to the cheers of thousands of rain-soaked faithful, a gathering of Catholic cardinals picked a new Pope from among their midst on Wednesday — choosing the cardinal from Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first leader of the church ever chosen from South America.
The new Pope (76), who will be called Francis, the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, is also the first non-European leader of the church in more than 1,000 years. The new Pope was announced on the white balcony on the front of St Peter’s Basilica as thousands of the faithful cheered joyously below. “Habemus papam!,” members of the crowd shouted in Latin, waving umbrellas and flags. “We have a pope!” Others cried “Viva il Papa!”
“It was like waiting for the birth of a baby, only better,” said a Roman man. A child sitting atop his father’s shoulders waved a crucifix. As Pope Francis emerged on the balcony of St Peter’s, he joked: “As you know the duty of the conclave is to give Rome a bishop. It seems that my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world!”
He then asked for prayers for his living predecessor. “First and foremost I would like to pray for our emeritus Pope Benedict XVI that Christ and the Madonna watch over him. Let us begin this journey together, this journey for the Roman Catholic Church. It’s a journey of friendship and love and faith between us. Let us pray for one another, let us pray for all the world.” Then he asked the crowd to be silent for a moment and pray for him as he accepts this new position.
Pope Francis is the first not born in Europe since Columbus alighted in the New World. In choosing him, the cardinals sent a powerful message that the future of the Church lies in the Global South, home to the bulk of the world’s Catholics. One of Benedict’s abiding preoccupations was the rise of secularism in Europe, and he took the name Benedict after the founder of European monastic culture.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m absolutely delighted. It’s a very unique moment. There is a great sense of unity here. It’s great they have come to a decision about who will lead the Church,” said John Mcginley, a Scottish priest from Glasgow who travelled to see the conclave.
“It’s a great moment in history, something I can tell my mum,” said David Brasch from Brisbane Australia. “He’s got to get the child abuse under control, I don’t know how they’re going to do that. He’s got to unite 1.2 billion people.”
Facts about Pope Francis I
>> Born in Buenos Aires in 1936
>> Bergoglio's father was an Italian immigrant and railway worker from the region around Turin
>> He has four brothers and sisters.
>> His original plan was to be a chemist, but in 1958 he instead entered the Society of Jesus and began studies for the priesthood.
>> Studied at Theological Faculty of San Miguel. Received licentiate in philosophy.
>> The first Latin American and the first Jesuit to be pontiff.
>> Reportedly received the second-most votes after Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 papal election
>> Despite being Argentina's top church official, Bergoglio never lived in the ornate church mansion in Buenos Aires, preferring a simple bed in a downtown room heated by a small stove.
>> For years, he took public transportation around the city and cooked his own meals.
>> Had a lung removed due to infection when he was a teenager.
>> Couldn't prevent Argentina from becoming the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage or stop its president, Cristina Fernandez, from promoting free contraception and artificial insemination.
>> When Bergoglio argued that gay adoptions discriminate against children, Fernandez compared his tone to ‘medieval times and the Inquisition.’
>> He has shown deep compassion for the victims of HIV-AIDS; in 2001, he visited a hospice to kiss and wash the feet of 12 AIDS patients.