Tuesday 24 October 2017

Electrified Rome welcomes Pope ‘from end of the Earth’

Nick Squires and John Bingham Vatican City

He stepped from behind the blood-red velvet curtains draped over the balcony of St Peter's Square, blinking and looking as surprised as anyone.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a 76-year-old from Argentina, was elected as the first Pope from outside Europe in more than a millennium -- the first from the Americas, taking the name Francis.

The 266th pontiff is the first Jesuit pope in the church's 2,000-year history. A stunned-looking Bergoglio shyly waved to the crowd of tens of thousands of people in the square below, marvelling that his 114 brother cardinals had to look to "the end of the Earth" to find a successor to Benedict XVI.

The new Pope, dressed in white vestments and with a crucifix around his neck, greeted the rapturous crowds at the end of a day of high drama.

He drew a huge cheer with his first few words, greeting the crowd with "Buona sera!" – Good evening.

Bergoglio was a hugely unexpected choice – he had not featured in any of the front-runner lists that were drawn up by Vatican watchers in the days before the election.

The appearance of the billowing white smoke from the tiny chimney on the terracotta tiled roof of the Sistine Chapel had earlier electrified Rome.

Within seconds, people were running up the broad avenue that leads from the banks of the River Tiber to St Peter's Square.

"They've chosen, they've chosen," a woman told her daughter as they hurried across rain-slicked cobbles.

Groups of young people cheered and sang and danced as tens of thousands of people made calls to friends and relatives.

They waved flags and shouted "Viva Il Papa" – without yet knowing who Il Papa was – as more and more people crammed into the square.

There was then an agonising, excited wait of more than an hour in the drizzle, as the massive crowd fizzed with speculation as to who the new Pope might be before he emerged.

He was picked after the cardinals cast just five votes in the papal conclave, held in the frescoed splendour of the Sistine Chapel.

Marco Politi, a well-known Vatican analyst, said: "I think it's a good move. He's not Italian, he's not European, he's not a man of the Curia (the Holy See's governing body). He represents an opening to the developing world.

"I think Francis I signifies a completely new beginning. He's a moderate man with some reformist tendencies. He's a man of the centre but open to reform and to a more positive vision of the church."

His decision to pick the name Francis was interpreted as a sign of his desire to embrace simplicity and humility, in what could be an epic shift for the church.

His personal style is said to be the antithesis of Vatican pomp and the name he has chosen is fitting for a man known for catching the bus and eschewing the luxuries of high office.

He stepped out on to the balcony of St Peter's after a cardinal in scarlet robes had announced "habemus papum".

Bergoglio had reportedly finished second in the 2005 conclave that elected the German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Benedict XVI.

The Archbishop of Buenos Aires has spent nearly his entire career at home in Argentina.

He asked for prayers for himself, and for his predecessor, the Pope Emeritus, who is the first pope to step down willingly since 1294 and is now living out his first weeks of retirement in a castle outside Rome.

The wait had finally come to an end at at 8.10pm local time.

The white curtains behind the balcony of St Peter's were drawn aside, the cardinal made his announcement in Latin, and the moment that the world had been waiting for arrived.

The new Pontiff delivered his first blessing to the giant crowd, asking for the prayers of "all men and women of good will" to help him lead the Catholic Church.

Speaking with a slight Latin American accent, the man now known as Francis even cracked a joke.

"As you know the duty of the conclave is to give Rome a bishop. It seems that my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world," a quip which drew huge cheers and laughter from the rain-sodden crowd.

Irish Independent

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