VATICAN CITY — Before a crowd that had cheered, cried, and roared as white smoke poured from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, the first pope from the Western Hemisphere took the name of the world’s most beloved saint as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis.
“Holy smoke!” the Rev. Michael Sedor shouted as the white clouds billowed in the dark square, where thousands had shivered in cold rain all day. Soon after Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran announced his name, the crowd began chanting “Francesco! Francesco!”
Inside, Cardinal Timothy Dolan would reveal later, the new Pope had asked Vatican personnel still waiting to greet him if he could do it later so the crowd wouldn’t have to wait in the cold any longer.
Pope Francis, 76, is the first of that name and the first Jesuit to be elected as Pope.
In Buenos Aires, he is famous for having given up the archbishop’s mansion for a humble apartment and riding the bus to work. Though many people expressed surprise at his election, many unofficial accounts say that Cardinal Bergoglio had been the runner-up to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 conclave.
Speaking in clear Italian, he soon brought the crowd to laughter with a joke about the cardinals having gone almost to the ends of the Earth to find a bishop for Rome. But when the new Pope asked them to pray for him, as a benediction for him before he gave them his blessing, the crowd of at least 100,000 became instantly silent.
Megan Donley of Pennsylvania, who is studying canon law in Rome, was overjoyed.
“It’s a great day for the church,” she said. “I know nothing about him except that he chose a wonderful name. And I was so moved when he said that in a minute he would give us a benediction, but that our prayers coming up to him were a benediction for him.”
NAME -- Jorge Mario Bergoglio
BORN -- Dec. 17, 1936
AGE -- 76
FAMILY -- His father was a railroad worker and his mother was a homemaker.
EXPERIENCE -- He was ordained a priest in 1969. He was named Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1997 by Pope John Paul II.
EDUCATION -- Degree in chemistry.
PHOTO GALLERY: Cardinal Bergoglio becomes Pope Francis
Earlier in the day, when the crowd was waiting for the descriptive smoke, a seagull had brought great laughter to the square when it perched atop the famous chimney. Given St. Francis’ well-known love for birds — to whom he sometimes preached — some Italians in the square asked after the new Pope appeared if the seagull was a portent.
It may not have been, but a cold rain that had made the crowd miserable all day stopped shortly after the white smoke rose from the chimney at the Sistine Chapel.
Father Sedor, who is finishing his studies in Rome, was moved by the Pope’s choice for a name.
“St. Francis was really a man of such humility and poverty. So in taking the name Francis, I think he’s speaking against the excesses that we have in life that distract us from God. We cling too closely to money and fame and pride, all those things that Francis gave up. I think Pope Francis is trying to remind us of what’s important.”
There have been a number of saints with the name Francis, but the first and the only one whose name requires no further identification was Francis of Assisi. Cardinal Dolan confirmed the new Pope took his name to honor that Francis, not the Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier.
Though modern people sometimes think of him primarily as a lover of animals, he was first and foremost a great evangelist who brought renewal to a medieval church that had lost touch with the common people and had become corrupt and uninspiring.
Francis of Assisi was a wealthy young man who gave up all his possessions in a desire to completely follow Jesus. He lived as a beggar, using the great communication methods of his day as he sang and told stories in public squares.
Pope Francis quickly showed a style in keeping with his namesake, Cardinal Dolan said, when he refused a seat on a raised dais and stood to meet the cardinals as they pledged their obedience.
Later, although a papal motorcade was waiting for him, he boarded the last of the minibuses to the residence where the cardinals stayed during the conclave, and remarked he would have to settle up the bill at the residence for priests that he had occupied before the conclave started Tuesday.
“He has already won our hearts,” Cardinal Dolan said.
At a dinner with all the cardinals shortly after his election, he toasted them with the quip, “May God forgive you.”
“It brought down the house,” Cardinal Dolan said.
According to Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., the cardinals chose Cardinal Bergoglio “because every one of us is called to a relationship with God and we were looking for someone whose life says that.”
Cardinal Wuerl has worked with Francis on committees at two synods, but also spent a lot of time asking other cardinals about him during the preconclave meetings. In those meetings, the new Pontiff impressed many of them with a brief address on the need for the church to stay focused on its spiritual message.
“And he always, always, has a preferential option for the poor. He doesn’t speak very long before he gets to that,” Cardinal Wuerl said.
“He is by all accounts a very gentle but firm, a very loving but fearless, a very pastoral and caring person, ideal for the challenges of today.”
When they worked together on committees, “You don’t have to try to figure out where he stands. When you are having a conversation about issues he just lets you know that, ‘This is what I think on this point,’ or ‘I think we see things differently.’ But done with great gentility,” Cardinal Wuerl said.
Under Pope Francis, “I think we are going to see a call to gospel simplicity. I think we are going to see a call to faithfulness to the rigorous demands of the gospel,” he said, noting many of the church’s messages about sexual morality and the value of human life are counter-cultural and unpopular.
“St. Francis of Assisi is the saint who tried to live literally the demands of the gospel . . . with complete and total trust in God. I think that is what Pope Francis will call us to do.”
Pope Francis has a great missionary sensibility, said the Rev. Andrew Small, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies of the United States.
“We have the evangelical pope that everybody has been calling for,” he said.
Father Small met with then-Cardinal Bergoglio in 2010, struck by his humility. “He was careful, respectful, almost bordering on apologetic,” he said.
The cardinal firmly defended church teaching that marriage is intended to be between a man and a woman, but did it in a way that didn’t alienate people, he said. “The church lost the battle, but it didn’t lose its credibility,” the priest said. “I think what he teaches us is that when you become removed from the people, the church loses its soul. What they’ve done here is they’ve voted for the soul to be put back into the church, which is the people of God.”
When Pope Francis emerged on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Father Small thought he wore his own, simple cross. “There were no jewels. It was a simple, silver cross. I would be surprised if the trappings of a medieval court are ever seen again. He wouldn’t know himself in them.”
While many Latin American bishops never have adapted to the post-Vatican II understanding that Jews are the “elder brothers” of Christians, “the new Pope is the exception to that rule,” Rabbi Berkun said. “He has had excellent relationships with the Argentine Jewish community throughout his tenure.”
The Pontiff’s cathedral in Buenos Aires, Rabbi Berkun said, is home to the only Holocaust memorial in the city. Under his leadership, various communities worked to help people in dire straits during an economic crisis.
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests expressed cautious hope for the pontificate, saying Cardinal Bergoglio handled a case in his archdiocese well. They noted he is from a religious order, and maintained religious orders have a worse track record than bishops on responding to complaints of sex abuse.
“We’re struck by how this new Pope, coming from a religious order, has both an enormous opportunity and duty to help prevent heinous assaults against kids by this crucial and relatively secretive segment of the Catholic clergy,” said David Clohessy, SNAP’s executive director.
Today, Francis plans to go visit Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and pray before the icon of Mary, Help of the People of Rome, showing his devotion to the new diocese that entitles him to the bishopric of Rome.
As cardinals returned from the conclave, Cardinal Dolan said, “There is a sense of relief on all of us and a sense of peace and serenity... Jesus is taking care of his church.”
At the end of dinner, “Pope Francis said to us tonight, ‘I’m going to sleep well. And something tells me you will too.’ ”
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Ann Rodgers is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
Contact Ann Rodgers at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 412-263-1416.