Cardinals pick first Latin American pontiff, Pope Francis
Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected Wednesday as the supreme leader of the Roman Catholic Church, the first ever pope to hail from Latin America.The 76-year-old Jesuit assumed the name Francis, another first in the Church’s 2,000-year-old history.
The 266th pope had been named as a possible contender by Vatican experts, but not as a front-runner, during the build-up to the conclave. He is believed to have been a serious contender in the 2005 conclave, but his advanced age had been expected to play against him this time round.
A plume of white smoke began emerging from a chimney on top of the Sistine Chapel at 7:06 pm (1806 GMT), announcing to the world that a new pope had been chosen.
It was accompanied by the ringing of bells and shouts of Viva il papa! (Long live the pope) from a multitude of people who had gathered in St Peter’s Square despite the rainy weather.
The decision by the 115 cardinals electors came on only the second day of the conclave, likely in the fifth ballot. It followed the surprise resignation of Benedict XVI a month earlier.
The Cardinal Protodeacon, Frenchman Jean-Louis Tauran, announced the choice from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, using the traditional Latin formula: "Nuntio Vobis Gaudium Magnum, Habemus Papam" (I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope), followed by the pope’s chosen name.
Shortly after, Bergoglio appeared. Looking relaxed and at ease in his white cassock, he saluted the crowd in perfect Italian: "Brothers and sisters, good evening."
He then joked about his origins, saying his fellow cardinals had picked the new pope "from almost the end of the world."
One of the new pope’s first acts was to phone Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who cleared the way for the new pope with his shock resignation announcement last month.
Francis was also expected to visit the retired pope, who is currently staying in the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, "in the coming days," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
On Thursday he was expected to pray privately before meeting the cardinals who elected him in the Sistine Chapel. He is due to meet the press on Saturday, recite the Angelus on Sunday and be formally inaugurated with a public mass in St Peter’s Square on Tuesday.
The news was greeted around the world and particularly in Latin America, home to around 40 per cent of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
"It is our wish for you to have, as you take on the leadership and guidance of the Church, a fruitful pastoral task regarding such major responsibilities for the sake of justice, equality, fraternity and peace for humanity," said Argentinian President Fernandez de Kirchner in a brief letter.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was "especially happy for the Christians of Latin America," while US President Barack Obama said his election "speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world and, alongside millions of Hispanic Americans, those of us in the United States share the joy of this historic day."
The new pope faces formidable tasks at the helm of a Church whose global image has been severely battered by the so-called VatiLeaks scandal, which has exposed disagreement and conflict within its hierarchy. Cases of child abuse by some members of the clergy have also tarnished its image worldwide.
Cardinal Ersilio Tonini, an elderly Italian who did not take part in the conclave, said the choice of Bergoglio was a surprise.
"We are confident that a new era for the Church begins," Tonini told Italy’s Ansa news agency.
Francesco Clementi, an expert on Vatican governance from the University of Perugia, told dpa that, while Bergoglio is "a very simple man," he has significant government skills, having had a working experience in many of the Church’s institutions.
Bergoglio’s deputy at the archdiocese of Buenos Aires, Eduardo Garcia, described the new pope as "a very simple, very humble pastor."
He is said to love tango, football and the music of Beethoven. The son of an Italian immigrant, he is also known to favour doing his own cooking and shunning chauffered cars.
While papal elections are highly secretive and there are no formal candidates, papal watchers said this election was much more open than the one in 2005, which turned German-born Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger into now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI after four rounds of voting.
Some of the most frequently mentioned names of "papabili" (papal candidates) circulating ahead of the conclave had been Italy’s Angelo Scola, Brazil’s Pedro Odilo Scherer, Timothy Dolan of the United States and Marc Ouellet of Canada.