VATICAN CITY — Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, the leader of a large urban archdiocese in Latin America, was elected the 266th pope and took the name Francis.
He is the first pope in history to come from the New World and the first non-European to be elected in almost 1,300 years. The Jesuit is also the first member of his order to be elected pope, and the first member of any religious order to be elected in nearly two centuries.
The election March 13 came on the second day of the conclave, on the cardinals’ fifth ballot. It was a surprisingly quick conclusion to a conclave that began with many plausible candidates and no clear favorite.
The new pope was chosen by at least two-thirds of the 115 cardinals from 48 countries, who cast their ballots in secret in the Sistine Chapel.
His election was announced in Latin from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, to a massive crowd under the rain in the square below — including at least a handful of Phoenix priests and seminarians — and millions watching around the world.
White smoke poured from the Sistine Chapel chimney at 7:05 p.m., signaling that the cardinals had chosen a successor to retired Pope Benedict XVI. Two minutes later, the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica began pealing continuously to confirm the election. An electric current spread throughout St. Peter’s Square.
At 8:12, French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the senior cardinal in the order of deacons, appeared at the basilica balcony and read out in Latin: “I announce to you a great joy: We have a pope! The most eminent and most reverend lord, Lord Jorge Mario, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Bergoglio, who has taken for himself the name Francis.”
The crowd in the square responded with cheers, applause and the waving of rain-soaked national flags.
Ten minutes the later the new pope appeared. He sought prayers for Pope Benedict and spoke of the journey the Church was about to begin.
“Now I would like to give my blessing. But first, I will ask a favor. Before the bishop blesses his people, he asks that you pray to the Lord to bless me, the prayer of the people for the blessing of their bishop. Let’s pray for me in silence,” he said.
Fr. Peter Dai Bui, a diocesan priest working in Rome for the Pontifical Council of Cor Unum, which promotes charity for the Church, called that instance “another time for goose bumps.” Fr. Bui was “more or less” right next to the statue of St. Peter when the pope came out.
He explained that sirens and conversation constantly filled the streets of Rome during his last 18 months there. Not when the Church’s new supreme leader called people to prayer.
“At that moment, everything was so quiet,” Fr. Bui said. He could sense the Church as the mystical body of Christ, which supports one another through prayer.
Fr. John Muir, assistant director at both the All Saints Catholic Newman Center in Tempe and the diocesan Office of Worship and Liturgy, was also in St. Peter’s Square. He blogged, Tweeted via social media and granted many media interviews about his experience.
“It’s winning the Super Bowl, combined with being a foster child and getting a new dad,” he wrote in a March 13 blogpost.
Fr. Bui recalled the two-day wait during the conclave and the hour-long interim to see the face of Christ’s vicar on earth.
“It’s a sign of hope and great joy to know we have someone who will lead us, a rock we can hold on to.”
Celsa Negrini, an older woman from Rome, said the new pope’s choice of name was “beautiful. Francis is the patron of Italy. It’s a humble choice, a choice of one who will reach out to the poor.”
That’s the part of his biography that most struck Kevin Grimditch, a Phoenix seminarian studying in Rome. He said choosing “Francis” as his papal name speaks “loudly that he wants to bring us in this same path, a kind of evangelical poverty.”
Grimditch also praised the pope’s prayerful spirit calling him “a father teaching his children to pray.” He said that set a tone for the new evangelization, one of prayerful and silent witness.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told reporters it was “beautiful that a Latin American was chosen.”
“I don’t know him well, even though we are part of same religious family,” he said. “I greeted him the other day, but didn’t expect to see him again dressed in white.”
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted addressed Phoenix media shortly after the announcement at the Diocesan Pastoral Center.
“What’s very significant to me about this election is that we have someone from the New World,” he said during the press conference. “So America now has a pope. Pope John Paul II said we should think of being united as one America.”
The bishop also noted that the first Jesuit to be named pope chose the name Francis. “This tells us a lot about who inspires him and what will mostly likely impact how he serves the Church.”
The last pope to have belonged to a religious order was Pope Gregory XVI, a Benedictine elected in 1831.
Pope Francis is from Buenos Aires, but he’s a pope for the whole world, the bishop said. The mission of the Successor of Peter is one of unity, he said, to lead the believers of Jesus Christ be one and to act as one, and to make Jesus’ love better known.
Both Jesuits and Franciscans have had a profound impact on the history of the Church in Arizona, the bishop said, noting Jesuit Father Eusebio Kino in particular. Yet the larger number of missionaries to the area were Franciscans.
“It’s a day of great joy for us,” the bishop said. “The first words we hear are ‘Habemus papam.’ That means ‘We have a father.’ That’s why there’s a feeling of uneasiness [when there isn’t a pope]. We naturally call the new pope ‘Holy Father.’ It gives us a sense that God is with us and He will, through this Vicar of Christ, this successor of St. Peter, continue to help us be faithful in loving Jesus Christ and serving the world.”
Pope Francis has had a growing reputation as a very spiritual man with a talent for pastoral leadership serving in a region with the largest number of the world’s Catholics.
Since 1998, he has been archbishop of Buenos Aires, where his style is low-key and close to the people.
He rides the bus, visits the poor, lives in a simple apartment and cooks his own meals, noted Fr. Ernesto Reynoso, host of the locally produced “Essencia de Fe” radio program on 740 AM.
“The more selfish the world grows, the more humble a pope the Lord gives us,” he said. To many in Buenos Aires, he is known simply as “Fr. Jorge.”
Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares, also on hand to answer questions from the media, noted Pope Francis’ humility in particular.
“He’s a very humble and simple man, but at the same time, a great theologian and pastor,” he said. “He will be bringing many gifts to the chair of St. Peter.”
Fr. Paul Sullivan, director of the Office of Vocations for the Diocese of Phoenix, also noted the new pope’s humility, saying the election “just seems perfect.”
“The Gospel can be so much more easily shared by a humble servant,” he said. “We had that with Pope Benedict and with Blessed John Paul II, and this election continues it.”
Fr. Bui from his temporary home in Rome said, “The Holy Spirit really outdid itself in electing a pope.”
Education and ministry
Jorge Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital city, Dec. 17, 1936.
He studied and received a master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Buenos Aires, but later decided to become a Jesuit priest and studied at the Jesuit seminary of Villa Devoto.
He studied liberal arts in Santiago, Chile, and in 1960 earned a degree in philosophy from the Catholic University of Buenos Aires. Between 1964 and 1965 he was a teacher of literature and psychology at Inmaculada high school in the province of Santa Fe, and in 1966 he taught the same courses at the prestigious Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires.
In 1967, he returned to his theological studies and was ordained a priest Dec. 13, 1969. After his perpetual profession as a Jesuit in 1973, he became master of novices at the Seminary of Villa Barilari in San Miguel. Later that same year, he was elected superior of the Jesuit province of Argentina.
In 1980, he returned to San Miguel as a teacher at the Jesuit school, a job rarely taken by a former provincial superior. In May 1992 he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires. He was one of three auxiliaries and he kept a low profile, spending most of his time caring for the Catholic university, counseling priests and preaching and hearing confessions.
On June 3, 1997, he was named coadjutor archbishop. He was installed as the new archbishop of Buenos Aires Feb. 28, 1998.
Some controversy had arisen over the position taken by Pope Francis during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, which cracked down brutally on political opponents. Estimates of the number of people killed and forcibly disappeared during those years range from about 13,000 to more than 30,000.
Citing a case in which two young priests were detained by the military regime, critics say that the cardinal, who was Jesuit provincial at the time, did not do enough to support Church workers against the military dictatorship.
Others, however, have said that he attempted to negotiate behind the scenes for the priests’ release, and a spokesman for the cardinal, quoted in the daily newspaper La Nación, called the accusation “old slander.”
As archbishop, he created new parishes, restructured the administrative offices, led pro-life initiatives and started new pastoral programs, such as a commission for divorcees. He co-presided over the 2001 Synod of Bishops and was elected to the synod council, so he is well-known to the world’s bishops.
“It’ll be exciting to see how he provides an example to the other diocesan bishops,” said Fr. Chris Fraser, judical vicar for the Diocese of Phoenix. Fr. Fraser added that the Code of Canon Law can serve as a handbook for diocesan bishops.
In 2010, when Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage, Pope Francis encouraged clergy across the country to tell Catholics to protest against the legislation because, if enacted, it could “seriously injure the family.”
He also said adoption by same-sex couples would result in “depriving (children) of the human growth that God wanted them given by a father and a mother.”
In 2006, he criticized an Argentine proposal to legalize abortion under certain circumstances as part of a wide-ranging legal reform. He accused the government of lacking respect for the values held by the majority of Argentines and of trying to convince the Catholic Church “to waver in our defense of the dignity of the person.”
His role often forced him to speak publicly about the economic, social and political problems facing his country. His homilies and speeches are filled with references to the fact that all people are brothers and sisters and that the Church and the country need to do what they can to make sure that everyone feels welcome, respected and cared for.
A New World pontiff
“People from developing countries will be able to identify with Pope Francis,” said Ignacio Rodriguez, associate director of the Office of Ethnic Ministries in the Diocese of Phoenix.
Rodriguez also said the new pope would have a keen appreciation of migration between countries. “He will lead us into conversion, communion and solidarity,” he said, referencing Blessed John Paul II’s encyclical, Ecclesia in America, in which the late pontiff spoke of the New World as one America, north, central and south.
While not overtly political, Pope Francis has not tried to hide the political and social impact of the Gospel message, particularly in a country still recovering from a serious economic crisis.
After becoming archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, he created new parishes, restructured the administrative offices, took personal care of the seminary and started new pastoral projects, such as the commission for divorcees. He mediated in almost all social or political conflicts in the city; recently ordained priests have been described as “the Bergoglio generation”; and no political or social figure missed requesting a private encounter with him.
A respected Italian journal said Pope Francis had the second-highest number of votes on each of the four ballots in the 2005 conclave.
“I was surprised, but it makes good sense,” said Sr. Jean Steffes, CSA, chancellor of the Diocese of Phoenix and director of the Office of Religious. “He’s someone from the New World who recognizes a different way of life. He has beautiful qualities.”
Parishes worldwide began offering Masses of Thanksgiving, especially once priests had a papal name they could fill in during the eucharistic prayer. There were at least three of them held in the Phoenix Diocese the same day in Surprise, Tempe and Bullhead City.
Fr. Peter Dobrowski, pastor of St. Margaret Mary in Bullhead City, started the regular 12:10 p.m. liturgy knowing the world had a pope, but not his name. During Mass, his receptionist put a note on the credence table with the name.
“St. Margaret Mary’s Church was one of the first churches in the world to use the new pope’s name in the Mass,” Fr. Dobrowski said.
After Mass, he began to learn more about the new Holy Father. He said the pope’s Italian heritage is exciting and said parishioners have expressed excitement that he’s from this side of the world. Others talked about the mission work of priests and about his ability to revive the Catholic faith in Latin America.
Pope Francis was installed as the supreme pontiff on the feast of St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church.
Francis X. Rocca, Cindy Wooden, Carol Zimmermann and Carol Glatz in Rome with Catholic News Service and The Catholic Sun’s Ambria Hammel and J.D. Long-García in Phoenix contributed to this story.