VATICAN CITY – Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was elected pope Wednesday — becoming the first pontiff from the Americas.
He chose the name Francis — born out of the 13th-century Italian preacher associated with peace, love and poverty.
Francis waved to the crowd of tens of thousands of people who gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the announcement.
“Brothers and sisters, good evening,” Francis said in his first public remarks.
“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.”
The cardinal electors overcame deep divisions to select the 266th pontiff in a five-ballot conclave.
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. He also spoke by phone with Benedict after his election and plans to see him in the coming days, the Vatican said.
“First and foremost, I would like to pray for our bishop emeritus, Benedict XVI,” the 76-year-old said.
“Let us pray together for him so that he is blessed by the Lord.”
Bergoglio had reportedly finished second in the 2005 conclave that produced Benedict — who last month became the first pope to resign in 600 years.
After announcing “Habemus Papam” — “We have a pope!” — a cardinal standing on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday revealed the identity of the new pontiff, using his Latin name, and announced he would be called Francis.
HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM
— Pontifex (@Pontifex) March 13, 2013
The longtime archbishop of Buenos Aires, is the son of middle-class Italian immigrants and is known as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed.
He often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina’s capital. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.
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 a lifetime of teaching and leading priests in Latin America, which has the largest share of the world’s Catholics, Bergoglio has also 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.
Francis will celebrate his first Mass as pope in the Sistine Chapel on Thursday, and will be installed officially as pope on Tuesday, according to the Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
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.
Tens of thousands gather in St. Peter’s Square
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 7 p.m., many shouting “Habemus Papam!” or “We have a pope!” — 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.
“I was about to leave. I was already crossing the bridge and I saw a bunch of people running so I came running with them knowing what was happening when the bell started going off,” an American tourist told CityNews reporter Francis D’Souza.
“It was fantastic to see this. We were not expecting to see it,” an Argentine family told D’Souza.
Fastest conclaves in years
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.
A winner must receive 77 votes, or two-thirds of the 115, to be named pope.
For comparison’s sake, Benedict was elected on the fourth ballot in 2005 — but he was the clear front-runner 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.
Patrizia Rizzo ran down the main boulevard to the piazza with her two children as soon as she heard the news on the car radio. “I parked the car … and dashed to the square, she said. ”It’s so exciting, as Romans we had to come.”
Bergoglio’s 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. It’s one reason why more than two-thirds of Argentines describe themselves as Catholic, but fewer than 10 per cent regularly attend mass.
Under Bergoglio’s leadership, Argentina’s bishops issued a collective apology in October 2012 for the church’s failures to protect its flock. But the statement blamed the era’s violence in roughly equal measure on both the junta and its enemies.
“Bergoglio has been very critical of human rights violations during the dictatorship, but he has always also criticized the leftist guerrillas; he doesn’t forget that side,” Rubin said.
Unlike the confusion that reigned during the 2005 conclave, the smoke this time around has been clear: black during the first two rounds of burned ballots, and then a clear white on Wednesday night — thanks to special smoke flares akin to those used in soccer matches or protests that were lit in the chapel ovens.
The Vatican 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.
The chemicals are 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 smoke that poured out of the chimney, neither the Sistine frescoes nor the cardinals inside the chapel suffered any smoke damage, Lombardi said.
Canadian politicians react
Parliamentary Secretary Kellie Leitch said she is thrilled with the selection of Francis.
“This is a tremendous a day for Catholics all over the world,” she told Cormac MacSweeney.
“On behalf of the Government of Canada and I think, all Canadians, I’d like to congratulate his holiness. Pope Francis is a man who dedicated his life to serving God and all humanity and we want to wish him all the best.”
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair issued a statement congratulating Francis.
“Throughout history, pontiffs have provided spiritual leadership and guidance, building bridges of faith among believers around the world. I wish Pope Francis all the best in this very important role.”
Liberal Leader Bob Rae extended his best wishes to Francis.
“By all accounts he is a man of deep compassion and wisdom, and takes on this responsibility at an important time,” he said.