The first South American, the first non-European in more than a millennium and the first Jesuit, a new era in the Catholic Church was ushered in as Argentinian cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was last night elected Pope Francis I.
Tens of thousands of people who braved cold rain to watch the smokestack atop the Sistine Chapel jumped for joy when white smoke poured out, many shouting “Habemus Papam!” or “We have a pope!” — as the bells of St Peter’s Basilica and churches across Rome pealed.
The Argentinian’s choice was a surprise to the hundreds of thousands of people who had packed into St Peter’s Square as well as many of the 1.2bn Catholics around the world.
— Keen Eye (@MartinBerthelot) March 14, 2013
The brevity of the conclave — the cardinals chose him on the fifth ballot on the gathering’s second day — led many to believe that the new pontiff would be an Italian, most likely Angelo Scola from Milan.
His predecessor, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, was elected on the fourth ballot in 2005 — but he was the clear frontrunner going into the vote. Pope John Paul II was elected on the eighth ballot in 1978 to become the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.
The Argentinian was not considered a serious contender due to his age. His health has also been questioned by some, having had a lung removed due to infection as a teenager.
However, Cardinal Bergoglio, the son of an Italian immigrant and railway worker, had reportedly finished second in the 2005 conclave that produced Benedict — who last month became the first pope to resign in 600 years.
When he appeared on the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica just over an hour after white smoke poured from a chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, one of the first things he asked of the thousands before him and millions more around the globe was to pray for him.
“Brothers and sisters, good evening,” he said to wild cheers in his first public remarks as pontiff. “You know that the work of the conclave is to give a bishop to Rome. It seems as if my brother cardinals went to find him from the end of the Earth.
“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.”
He finished his address by saying: “Good night, and have a good rest.”
That humbleness appears to be typical of the 76-year-old archbishop of Buenos Aires.
In fact, even the choice of the name Francis reflects that as it associates him with the humble 13th-century Italian preacher who lived a life of poverty.
In his home city, he was renowned for his refusal to surround himself in luxury during his tenure as archbishop.
He often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals, and regularly visited the slums that surround Argentina’s capital.
He has spent nearly his entire career at home in Argentina, overseeing churches and priests, where he has focused on social outreach.
However, though considered a moderate compared to his fellow cardinals, Pope Francis I has a reputation as an austere Jesuit intellectual.
He takes a conservative line on issues such as abortion and gay marriage, though he believes in contraception to prevent the spread of disease and is open to dialogue with other faiths.
Argentina’s media was quick to point out the new pope had a history of confrontation with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her predecessor as president and husband, the late Nestor Kirchner.
The main point of friction has been same-sex marriage, which Ms Fernández’s government legalised in Jul 2010. Commenting on the matter at the time, Cardinal Bergoglio said: “Let us not be naïve — this is not simply a political struggle, it is the aspiration to destroy God’s plan.”
His legacy as cardinal includes his efforts to repair the reputation of a church that lost many followers by failing to openly challenge Argentina’s murderous 1976-83 dictatorship.
Many Argentines remain angry over the Church’s acknowledged failure to openly confront a regime that was kidnapping and killing thousands of people as it sought to eliminate “subversive elements” in society.
Nonetheless his spirituality, frugal lifestyle, and his robust defence of the poor have made him a popular figure in Buenos Aires.
When the news broke in his home city last night, cars honked their horns and television announcers screamed with elation and surprise, and Catholics began flooding toward the city’s cathedrals and churches.
The news was greeted with delight across South America where, despite the level of support for the Catholic Church, there has never been a pope selected.
Vatican spokesman the Rev Federico Lombardi, also a Jesuit, said he was particularly stunned by the election given that Jesuits typically shun positions of authority in the Church, instead offering their work in service to those in power.
But Lombardi said that in accepting the election, Francis must have felt it “a strong call to service”, an antidote to all those who speculated that the papacy was about a search for power.
The new pope will be officially installed as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church on Mar 19 in a ceremony which will be attended by heads of state and governments.
*18:20 GMT: Some of the excited faithful who have been waiting in the rain at the Vatican are shouting out “Habemus papam!” in excitement, AFP’s Gildas le Roux reports.
That of course is a reference to the announcement which will be made in about half an hour of the new pope’s identity by French cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran.
“Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus papam! (I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope!), Tauran will say, before revealing the name of the elected cardinal and the papal title the new pontiff has chosen.
*18:23 GMT: The atmosphere at St Peter’s Square, where thousands of people had clustered in the rain awaiting a puff of white smoke, is like a stadium, Gildas le Roux tells us.
“The faithful are clapping, waving flags in colours of the Holy See (white and gold),” Gildas says.
*18:26 GMT: So who will be the new pontiff? That has not been made public yet, but the favourites include Brazil’s Odilo Scherer, Canada’s Marc Ouellet, and Italy’s Angelo Scola.
They are all seen as conservatives similar to Benedict XVI in outlook.
*18:29 GMT: The cardinals have reached their decision after just over 24 hours of the conclave — does this mean it is more likely that the 115 electing cardinals have gone for one of the favourites?
*18:32 GMT: The new pope’s nationality may not yet be known, but flags from all over the world are being waved by the faithful at St Peter’s in support of their favoured candidates.
Russia, the US, Italy, Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil are all represented.
Bells are also being rung in churches right across Rome and car horns are being sounded in the streets in celebration.
*18:36 GMT: The Swiss Guards in their distinctive plumed helmets, carrying pikestaffs and flags, are marching into St Peter’s Square and taking up position. They draw huge cheers from the excited crowds and are accompanied by upbeat marching music.
*18:39 GMT: When the name of the new pope is announced, it will be his papal moniker which is revealed to the crowd.
According to Irish bookmakers Paddy Power, the best odds are that the new pope will call himself Leo — which means lion — while the fifth best odds are for Peter.
*18:44 GMT: “Juan Pablo III” is trending on Twitter as a proposed name for the new pope.
Many users are saying they would like the new pontiff to be named for Benedict’s highly popular predecessor John Paul II.
*18:47 GMT: The esplanade in front of the basilica is filling up with the forces in charge of defending the Vatican ahead of the announcement, Gildas le Roux says.
The Italian national anthem is sung by a large part of the crowd — many are hopeful of an Italian pope and Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, is among the favourites.
*18:53 GMT: All 10 worldwide Twitter trending topics are now about the pope, AFP’s Judith Evans notes.
“Who said Catholicism wasn’t relevant to modern world?” she adds.
*18:59 GMT: All eyes are now on the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, where cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran will appear to announce who is the new pope any minute now.
AFP’s Ella Ide has been talking to some of the faithful, including one for whom the excitement has been too much.
“I didn’t think I would cry! But I guess the adrenalin’s taking over!” says Rebecca Hine, a student from Canada who has waited two days in the rain to see white smoke.
“We were having dinner near by and heard a roar, and raced here to see for ourselves” adds Ruud, 31, from the Netherlands.
*19:06 GMT: A wild cheer breaks out as the lights go on in the balcony room where the new pope will make his first appearance.
*19:08 GMT: It is now an hour since the white smoke emerged — but still no news on who is the new pope. The name is expected any minute.
*19:12 GMT: ‘Habemus Papam’, the cardinal announces.
*19:13 GMT: Argentina’s Bergoglio is elected pope.
*19:15 GMT: A big surprise with the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first pope from the Americas.
*19:16 GMT: New pope will be known as Francis I.
*19:18 GMT: Bergoglio is archbishop of Buenos Aires and the first Jesuit to be elected pope.The 76-year-old is considered a moderate conservative.
*19:22 GMT: New pope Francis I emerges on the balcony to loud cheers.
*19:24 GMT: Francis I looks perfectly calm as he surveys the huge crowd of thousands cheering for him below in St Peter’s Square — barely a flicker of emotion is visible on his face.
*9:25 GMT: He is now speaking, thanking the crowd for their welcome.
*19:27 GMT: Francis I offers prayer for Benedict XVI and calls for brotherhood in the Church.
*19:29 GMT: Smiling now, he asks the crowd to pray to God to bless him.
A silence descends on the huge crowd as he bends his head and leads the crowd in prayer.
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