Published March 13, 2013
Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been elected by his peers as the new pope, becoming the first pontiff from the Americas.
He has chosen to be known as Pope Francis.
The 76-year-old has spent nearly his entire career at home in Argentina, overseeing churches and shoe-leather priests.
Francis, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, reportedly got the second-most votes from the 115 cardinals after Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 papal election, and he has long specialized in the kind of pastoral work that some say is an essential skill for the next pope.
In a lifetime of teaching and leading priests in Latin America, which has the largest share of the world’s Catholics, Francis has shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly.
He is also known for modernizing an Argentine church that had been among the most conservative in Latin America. Like other Jesuit intellectuals, Bergoglio has focused on social outreach. Catholics are still buzzing over his speech last year accusing fellow church officials of hypocrisy for forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes. Bergoglio has slowed a bit with age and is feeling the effects of having a lung removed due to infection when he was a teenager.
In taking the name Francis, he drew connections to the 13th century St. Francis of Assisi, who saw his calling as trying to rebuild the church in a time of turmoil. It also evokes images of Francis Xavier, one of the 16th century founders of the Jesuit order that is known for its scholarship and outreach.
Francis, the son of middle-class Italian immigrants, is known as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed. Bergoglio often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina’s capital.
He came close to becoming pope last time, reportedly gaining the second-highest vote total in several rounds of voting before he bowed out of the running in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.
Groups of supporters waved Argentine flags in St. Peter’s Square as Francis, wearing simple white robes, made his first public appearance as pope.
Chants of “Long live the pope!” arose from the throngs of faithful, many with tears in their eyes. Crowds went wild as the Vatican and Italian military bands marched through the square and up the steps of the basilica, followed by Swiss Guards in silver helmets and full regalia.
Francis appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica after the vote. Earlier in the same place, a church official announced “Habemus Papum” — “We have a pope” — and gave Bergoglio’s name in Latin.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening,” he said before making a reference to his roots in Latin America, which accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s Roman Catholics.
Francis asked for prayers for himself, and for retired Pope Benedict XVI, whose surprising resignation paved the way for the conclave that brought the first Jesuit to the papacy.
“Brothers and sisters, good evening,” Francis 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. Thank you for the welcome.”
Bergoglio has shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly, according to his official biographer, Sergio Rubin. He showed that humility on Wednesday, saying that before he blessed the crowd he wanted their prayers for him and bowed his head.
“Good night, and have a good rest,” he said before going back into the palace.
White smoke billowed from the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel earlier Wednesday, indicating the cardinals selected Francis after two days of voting after Benedict XVI stunned the Catholic world last month by becoming the first pope in 600 years to resign. Crowds packing St. Peter’s Square were seen waving flags and were cheering the announcement as bells were ringing.
Prior to being announced as the new pope by French Cardinal Protodeacon Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran, Francis would have been asked inside St. Peter’s Basilica “Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?”
After giving his approval, Francis was then asked which name he would like to be called, and other cardinals would have approached him to make acts of homage and obedience.
Francis also had to be fitted into new robes, and all the cardinals took time for prayer and reflection.
Elected on the fifth ballot, Francis was chosen in one of the fastest conclaves in years, remarkable given there was no clear front-runner going into the vote and that the church had been in turmoil following the upheaval unleashed by Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation.
The conclave also played out against revelations of mismanagement, petty bickering, infighting and corruption in the Holy See bureaucracy. Those revelations, exposed by the leaks of papal documents last year, had divided the College of Cardinals into camps seeking a radical reform of the Holy See’s governance and those defending the status quo.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi said it was a “good hypothesis” that Francis would be installed next Tuesday, on the feast of St. Joseph, patron saint of the universal church. The installation Mass is attended by heads of state from around the world, requiring at least a few days’ notice.
Benedict XVI would not attend, he said.
In Washington, President Barack Obama offered warm wishes to newly elected Pope Francis I. Obama said the selection of the first pope from the Americas speaks to the strength and vitality of the region. He said millions of Hispanic Americans join him in praying for the new pope.
The Vatican earlier on Wednesday divulged the secret recipe used: potassium perchlorate, anthracene, which is a derivative of coal tar, and sulfur for the black smoke; potassium chlorate, lactose and a pine resin for the white smoke.
Thousands of people braved a chilly rain on Wednesday morning to watch the 6-foot-high copper chimney on the chapel roof for the smoke signals telling them whether the cardinals had settled on a choice. Nuns recited the rosary, while children splashed in puddles.
The chemicals were contained in five units of a cartridge that is placed inside the stove of the Sistine Chapel. When activated, the five blocks ignite one after another for about a minute apiece, creating the steady stream of smoke that accompanies the natural smoke from the burned ballot papers.
Despite the great plumes of white and black smoke that poured out of the chimney, neither the Sistine frescoes nor the cardinals inside the chapel suffered any smoke damage, Lombardi said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.