The 115 cardinal-electors of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church, meeting in conclave for the second day on March 13, elected Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, to become the church’s 266th pope.
When the traditional puff of white smoke — signaling that a pope had been elected — rose from the Sistine Chapel chimney at 7:06 p.m. on Wednesday, Rome time, a wave of excitement stirred through the crowd of tens of thousands gathered in the rain in St. Peter’s Square to await the announcement and first appearance by the new pontiff.
Flags of many nations waved amidst the crowd, along with homemade signs reading “Habemus papam!” (“We have a Pope” in Latin) and “Viva il Papa!” (“Long Live the Pope,” in Italian).
Following the announcement by the Cardinal Protodeacon Jean-Louis Tauran, in Latin, that Cardinal Bergoglio had been chosen, and that the new pope had chosen the name Francis, a chant of “Francesco!” resounded across the piazza.
“I would like to thank you for your embrace,” said the new pope from the balcony on St. Peter’s Basilica overlooking the Piazza. “My brother cardinals have chosen one who is from far away, but here I am.”
The New York Times reported that as he blessed the faithful, Francis asked the audience in Italian to “pray for me, and we’ll see each other soon.”
The world’s news media and Vatican observers immediately commented on several firsts signified by this selection: Bergoglio was the first pope to take on the name Francis, the first from the New World, the first Jesuit, and the first non-European pope since the Syrian-born Pope Gregory III, who served from 731-741.
Though Cardinal Bergoglio was reportedly the runner-up in votes to then-Cardinal Ratzinger during the conclave of 2005, he was not among the likely candidates named by most Vatican watchers to succeed Pope Benedict XVI. After having largely ignored the cardinal from Buenos Aires, the world scrambled to learn more about the man who had just become pope.
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Photo of Pope Francis: AP Images