VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The tens of thousands of rain-drenched pilgrims who filled St. Peter’s Square March 13 joyously cheered the new leader of the church, Pope Francis.
Cheers of “Francesco! Francesco! Francesco!” resounded throughout the square as he greeted the exuberant crowd in Italian and blessed them from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.
When the name of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was initially announced, the crowd was momentarily quiet and visibly puzzled about who he was, but they clapped and cheered when they heard the name Francis, even if they still didn’t know much about him.
“The choice of the name was beautiful for us. St. Francis is the patron saint of Italy,” said Celsa Negrini of Rome, who was in the crowd. “It was a beautiful evening. We’re so happy to have an Argentine pope and it was about time we had someone from Latin America.”
“He seems very humble; his demeanor seems very positive. He will be a pope who evangelizes people’s consciences,” she added.
The crowd, many of whom had already waited for hours in the rain to see if there would be smoke from the Sistine Chapel, waited another hour after shouting and cheering about the white smoke and rushing to get as close as they could to the front of St. Peter’s Basilica to catch a glimpse of the new pontiff.
The crowd noticed every indication that the new pope would be appearing. They cheered when the marching band walked up to the steps of St. Peter’s and again when the lights went on in the second floor of the basilica and later when curtains moved on the balcony. By this time the pouring rain that had gone on all day had come to a stop.
Father Giovanni Rizzo, a priest from the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., studying canon law in Rome, told the people near him who the new pope was. When the name was announced he told them the new pope was Argentine and a Jesuit, details he confirmed on his smartphone.
Those around him nodded and seemed happy about the news. The Italian Franciscan sisters standing nearby were thrilled with the pope’s chosen name.
The crowd was even more thrilled when Pope Francis, in fluent Italian, led them in praying the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. When he asked for their silent prayers for him the crowd responded by praying in absolute silence. For the first time in hours at the square, distant police sirens could be heard.
Just prior to the announcement of the new pope, Father Rizzo told Catholic News Service that it was very exciting to be with everyone awaiting the pope’s arrival on the balcony.
“It’s a great moment of community,” he said.
That feeling of community lingered after the pope said his words of greeting, ending with “have a good night and have a good rest” in Italian, and the crowd dispersed. Some hugged each other; many took pictures; many were talking excitedly about what they had just seen. The streets were filled with people in a very party-like atmosphere.
Although no one who spoke with CNS seemed to know much about the new pope, it did not dissuade their enthusiasm.
Father Elievev Israel Sandoval Espinoza of the Archdiocese of Monterrey, Mexico, said it was a “historic day without a doubt for the whole world, not just Latin America.”
Like so many in the crowd who liked the new pope’s name, he said the name signifies many things such as change, faith and prayer.
Father Simon Gras, a priest from Barcelona, Spain, said the announcement of the new pope was “a great joy, an immense joy.” He was pleased that the pope was from Argentina, and a Jesuit, but above all, that he took the name of St. Francis: “a man who has no fear. His name is about humility and poverty.”
— By Carol Zimmermann and Carol Glatz Catholic News Service