The most famous bird on the planet was perched on the copper chimney atop the Sistine Chapel. For over 40 minutes he remained at his post completely oblivious to the fact that thousands of camera lenses and millions of onlookers were observing his every move. I joked with Maria that because the bird was a seagull the new Roman Pontiff would hail from a coastal city. Maybe it portended the election of Cardinal O’Malley of Boston or Cardinal Dolan from NYC. Could it be? The new Pope would indeed come from a coastal city in the Americas – from the Argentinian Capital of Buenos Aires.
The feathered sentinel didn’t stick around to witness the outcome. At first the smoke appeared to be jet black, but it quickly metamorphosed into an unmistakable cascade of white. The bells of St. Peter’s Basilica tolled in confirmation. Habemus Papam! We had a Pope.
A little after 8:00PM Rome Time on March 13th the world caught its first glimpse of the new Holy Father. He strode onto the central loggia with a peaceful bearing; the picture of serenity in the eye of an admiring storm. Thousands of flashbulbs flickered like so many fireflies on a summer night.
It’s always exciting to see a new Pope, but also a bit jarring to view a new man donning the familiar white robes. He greeted the crowd with a casual “good evening” and said that the cardinals had to go to the end of the world to find the new Pope. This was certainly true.
The new Successor of St. Peter asked those gathered in St. Peter’s Square to pray for him in silence before he imparted his first Apostolic Blessing. He bowed forward and one could hear a pin drop as over 150,000 people prayed silently. One TV network thought that they had lost their feed it was so quiet!
The world could already see in a dramatic way that this new “Papa” was going to be his own man and do things differently than his predecessor – the beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
Who was this man that two-thirds or more of the cardinals had voted for on only the second day of the conclave and the fifth ballot? His name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina until his election to the papacy. This man set many firsts in one fell swoop. He is the first Pope to take the name Francis (after the 13th century Poverello who became one of the most beloved saints in the world), the first Pope from the Americas and the Southern Hemisphere, the first from the Jesuit Order founded by St. Ignatius Loyola, and the first non-European Pope since the Syrian Pope St. Gregory III in 741 – over 1,200 years ago! Even though he had garnered the second most votes after Benedict XVI in the 2005 Conclave, he was a definite dark horse this year because he is 76 years old.
Pope Francis has demonstarted in only a few days that he has his own style. He is typically “Latin” and gestures with his hands while speaking and expressing emotions with his eyes. He is very tactile and personable when interacting with others and has a real heart for the poor and downtrodden. While Archbishop he frequently reached out to those in the slums of Buenos Aires and even washed the feet of a man with AIDS. He led a simple and austere life back home trading in the Archbishop’s Palace for a small apartment and his limousine for public transportation. He desires that the Church should witness clearly to its preferential option for the poor and should live with the poor. In other words, he walks the walk in addition to talking the talk.
One thing is for sure, the Church will be in for a great adventure under the leadership of Pope Francis (it is incorrect to call him Pope Francis I until if and when there is a future Pope Francis II, just as nobody referred to World War I until there was a World War II). His actions in the first few days of his papacy are definitely a harbinger of interesting things to come. I for one can’t wait to take the ride!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow to everyone!