White smoke signaled the beginning of a new papal legacy in Vatican City as Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected in a surprise choice to be the new leader of the beleagured Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday, taking the name Francis I and becoming the first non-European pontiff in nearly 1,300 years. This news was announced in Reuters recently.
"Pope Francis, 76, 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 to signal 115 cardinal electors had chosen him to lead the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics," added Reuters.
"Pray for me," the new pontiff, dressed in the white robes of a pope for the first time, urged a crowd of tens of thousands of people waiting in the square below, added the news report.
The choice of Bergoglio, who is the first Latin American and first Jesuit pope, was announced by French cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran with the Latin words "Habemus Papam" ("We have a pope."), added Reuters today. The news caught the world by surprise and the swiftness of the election makes one believe that this pope has been a frontrunner.
Pope Francis I should offer a kindler, gentler papacy
"Francis has became the 266th pontiff in the Church's 2,000-year history at a time of great crisis, with the church under fire over a child sex abuse scandal and torn by infighting in the Vatican bureaucracy," added Reuters.
"Although a conservative theologically, Francis is known for his concern for the poor and is expected to bring a radical change of style to the Church leadership, indicated by his choice for the first time of the name of St Francis of Assisi, who died in 1226 after living a life of poverty and simplicity," added the news syndicate.
He immediately showed the difference from his predecessor Benedict, an aloof theologian, with a gesture of humility, asking the waiting crowd to bless him before he blessed them, according to the report.
Bergoglio shunned the papal limousine after his appearance on the balcony and chose to take a shuttle bus with other cardinals back to the Vatican residence where they are staying, for an evening meal, added Reuters.
"Bergoglio is known as a humble man who leads an austere and sober life without ostentation, travelling by public transport and living in a small apartment outside Buenos Aires," added Reuters.
"He is willing to challenge powerful interests and is deeply concerned about the social inequalities in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America. He has had a sometimes difficult relationship with President Cristina Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor Nestor Kirchner," according to the news report.
Francis has spoken out strongly against gay marriage, denouncing it in 2010 as "an attempt to destroy God's plan," according to the news syndicate.
Argentina cries tears of joy
Pope Francis I is expected to be the most popular Argentinian ever, surpassing Evita, the popular first lady that was memorialized on Broadway and in film.
"Jubilant Argentines poured into churches, some crying and praying, after the announcement at the Vatican," added Reuters. "This is a blessing for Argentina," one woman shouted on a Buenos Aires street, according to the report.
The election was enthusiastically welcomed elsewhere in Latin America too, added Reuters. "We're happy because we have a new pope and because the choice of a Latin American shows that the Church is opening, is now focused on the entire Church. It's not just a church only focused on Europe," said Leonardo Steiner, general secretary of the national conference of Brazilian bishops to the media.
"Francis was not among the small group of front runners identified before the election. The Jesuit order to which he belongs was founded in the 16th century to serve the pope. It is best known for its work in education and the intellectual prowess of its members," added the report.
"The monks at the convent of St. Francis in Assisi were overjoyed at the election of Bergoglio and his decision to take the name Francis for a pontiff for the first time," added the news report.
"St. Francis still points to the path of humility and evangelical simplicity," said the abbot, Father Mauro Gambetti to Reuters..
Italian theologian Massimo Faggioli told Reuters: "I don't expect him to change on doctrine, but he is a more pastoral person. It seems that this pope will be more aware of what life is all about."
Faggioli, a professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, added: "He will have more room to make his message heard than Benedict did. The papacy needs to have an audience more open to listen to what the pope says. He is not an outsider. He didn't present himself as a reformer with hatchet in hand."
Who is Pope Francis I?
"Bergoglio was born into a middle-class family of seven, his father an Italian immigrant railway worker and his mother a housewife," added Reuters. "Replacing Pope Benedict, who resigned last month, he overturned one of the main assumptions before the election, that the new pope would be relatively young."
Bergoglio is the oldest of most of the possible candidates and was barely mentioned in feverish speculation about the top contenders before the conclave, according to the report. Pope Francis I is "the first non-European pope since Syrian-born Gregory III in the eighth century, and the third successive non-Italian pontiff. The Vatican said his inaugural mass would be on March 19," added Reuters.
U.S. President Barack Obama said the election of Francis "speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world."
Pray for Benedict
"In brief remarks from the balcony of St. Peter's, Francis called on the faithful to pray for Benedict and said the Church was setting off on a "journey of fraternity, of love, of trust," added the report.
It seemed the cardinal electors "went to the end of the world" to find him, he said to the throng outside the balcony. "The Vatican said Francis would visit Benedict soon at his temporary home in the summer papal residence outside Rome. Thousands of people sheltering from heavy rain under a sea of umbrellas had occupied the square all day to await the decision and the crowd swelled as soon as the white smoke emerged," added the news syndicate.
"They cheered wildly and raced towards the basilica as the smoke billowed from a narrow makeshift chimney and St Peter's bells rang. The tens of thousands in the square cheered even more loudly when Francis appeared, the first pontiff to take that name. "Viva il Papa (pope)," they chanted," added Reuters.
Front runners at the conclave had included Brazilian Odilo Scherer, and Italy's Angelo Scola, who would have returned the papacy to traditional Italian hands after 35 years of the German Benedict XVI and Polish John Paul II, according to the news report.
"The decision by cardinal electors sequestered in a secret conclave in the Sistine Chapel came sooner than many experts expected because there were several front runners before the vote to replace Pope Benedict," added the news syndicate.
"The cardinals faced a thorny task in finding a leader capable of overcoming crises caused by priestly child abuse and a leak of secret papal documents that uncovered corruption and rivalry inside the Church government or Curia," according to Reuters.
"Francis will head a Church also shaken by rivalry from other churches, the advance of secularism, especially in its European heartland, and allegations of scandal at the Vatican bank," according to the report.
The series of crises is thought to have contributed to Benedict's decision to become the first pontiff in 600 years to abdicate, according to the media report.
Rival to Ratzinger in 2005
"Bergoglio was a moderate rival candidate at the 2005 conclave to the conservative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become Benedict," added Reuters. "Italian media say he impressed cardinals in pre-conclave meetings where they discussed the Church's problems."
"Reserved and humble, Francis does not fit the profile of an active preacher that many cardinals had previously said they were seeking. He studied chemistry before joining the priesthood nearly a decade after losing a lung to respiratory illness," added Reuters.
"The secret conclave began on Tuesday night with a first ballot and four ballots were held on Wednesday. Francis obtained the required two thirds majority in the fifth ballot.The previous four popes were all elected within two or three days," added the report.
"In preparatory meetings before the conclave, the cardinals seemed divided between those who believe the new pontiff must be a strong manager to get the dysfunctional bureaucracy under control and others who are looking more for a proven pastoral figure to revitalize their faith across the globe," according to Reuters.
The choice of Pope Francis I was considered a surprise to many. He is an aged leader who has served the Roman Catholic Church, and he is being rewarded for his piety and gentle leadership. He will usher a new morefaithful version of the papacy . Expect a traditional pope who will eschew the pomp and circumstance favored by Benedict. Like Pope John Paul II before him, he seems to prefer to be mobile. He rides public transportation and up until today lived in a small apartment. His life should be indescribably different from today on, but expect a pope that leads with quiet dignity and humility, as the Roman Catholic Church attempts to distance itself from more recent scandals in favor of a quieter, less controversial approach to religious leadership.
Staten Island readers of Examiner, expect to teach this groundbreaking story in religios education classes in the upcoming months and years. Finally The Vatican can rejoice as the air in Rome fills with joyous white smoke.