WASHINGTON (CNS) — People young and old, of every race, culture and background, gathered together the afternoon of March 13 near the cafeteria at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to watch the announcement of the election of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pope.
After the white smoke spewed forth from the smokestack on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, the crowd lay in wait watching a small television screen for the pronouncement of who had been elected.
Strangers became friends as they discussed who it might be. One man said he heard it might be a foreign cardinal, someone not from Italy but who had studied in Rome. Others left half-eaten lunches to join the excitement.
“It is a blessing to be here,” said Potomac, Md., resident Diana Gottron about being at the shrine on such a momentous day.
The clamor of the great bells tolling the moment could be heard throughout the church.
“I was totally surprised it happened so quickly”, said Hyattsville, Md., resident Kate Arno.
“I am excited to see who it is,” said Chris Darden, who was in Washington on a senior class trip from Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School in Dayton, Ohio.
As the lights turned on near the balcony where the new pope would be announced, the entire crowd jumped out of their seats and pushed forward toward the television screen. Many people had phones and cameras ready to take pictures and video.
“C’mon, open the door!” one man shouted with anticipation.
As they announced the Latin name of the pope, looks of confusion could be seen around the room. No one could figure out who it was, except that he had chosen the name “Francisco.” At that, a Franciscan brother in the back of the room put both of his hands to his face in excitement.
When the new pope’s name was announced, Honduras native Maximilian Avila sitting in the front of the room jumped to his feet and ran backward to high-five the Franciscan brother. With both thumbs raised in the air, he shouted, “The first Latino pope in history!”
“I think it is a job that no one wants, but I hope he has the strength (for it),” said Brother Emanuel Vasconcelos, a Conventual Franciscan in formation. This pope will “rebuild the church,” and “bring new life to a broken world,” he said.
The crowd grew silent as the doors opened, but as soon as the new pontiff — Pope Francis I — stepped up to the podium, the onlookers erupted with applause and shouts of joy.
“This is a glorious day!” said C. Vanessa White with tears streaming down her face.
“We as a church need someone” who can be a “servant-leader,” she said. A professed member of the Secular Franciscan Order, she was overjoyed that the pope chose the name Francis. There is a “meaning behind that name,” she said, adding he is a “pope for all people.”
It is a witness and a reminder of the global nature of the church, she said.
Before he gave a blessing to the Catholic Church, Pope Francis asked for a blessing from all those watching.
“How he began (as pope), in asking for our prayers, speaks to that … spiritual stirring in people,” said White.
“He is a gift to us, to Latinos,” said Avila. “We have been given a great gift, and now this is our opportunity to “give something back.”
Outside, young exuberant students took pictures of the huge majestic yellow and white Vatican banners that were rolled down the sides of the shrine to commemorate the election of the new pope.
— By Joseph Austin Catholic News Service