Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as Pope Francis I on Wednesday, after only two days of voting in the conclave tasked with choosing a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.
According to anonymous reports of the 2005 conclave, he was the leading contender against then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Benedict XVI. Bergoglio, 76, has served as the archbishop of Buenos Aires since 1998 and was made a cardinal in 2001. He is the first Latin American and the first Jesuit to rise to the papacy.
In his first address to the huge crowd that had gathered in St Peter’s Square, Francis asked for the prayers of “all men and women of good will” to help him lead the Catholic Church.
Speaking in Italian, he jokingly remarked: “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.”
In a remarkable gesture of humility, the new pope then asked the throngs to pray for him before he offered his first blessing as the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.
President Obama welcomed the pope’s election, saying, “As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than two thousand years — that in each other we see the face of God.”
Cardinals who participated in the two-day conclave also welcomed his election, with New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, promising that “the bishops of the United States and the people of our 195 dioceses offer prayers for our new leader and promise allegiance to him.”
Francis’ election was a win for those who had wanted a pope from Latin America, which is home to some 40 percent of the world’s Catholics.
The Jesuit fought fiercely against the left-leaning liberation theology movement that swept Latin America in the 1980s and caught the attention of many Jesuit priests. Yet he also emerged as a champion of the poor and outcast, chastising Catholic priests who refused to baptize the children of unmarried mothers. The former Cardinal Bergoglio is known as an unassuming prelate who opted for a small room in a downtown residence instead of the more ornate archbishop’s palace. He was known to take the bus to work and cook his own meals.
“Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that’s sick because it’s self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former,” he said recently, according to a profile by the National Catholic Reporter’s Vatican correspondent, John Allen.
The announcement came as nightfall settled on Rome and rain clouds dampened the sky. White smoke billowed from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel at 7:06 p.m., as the bells of St. Peter’s basilica started ringing and thousands of people cheered in St. Peter’s square.
“Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Habemus Papam!” French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran announced from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, using the traditional Latin formula for “I announce great news! We have a pope!”
Cardinals reached the two thirds majority (77 votes) needed for the election of a new pope after only five ballots and two days of voting.
Alessandro Speciale has been covering the Vatican since 2007 and started writing for Religion News Service in 2011. Born in Rome, he studied literature at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy, and journalism at City University, London. He has appeared as an expert on Vatican affairs on CNN, BBC World and Al Jazeera English. Via RNS .