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Why new pope's elevation is a surprise

Pope Francis I, formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, is the first South American to lead the Catholic Church. Catholics in the Vatican, Argentina and around the world celebrated his selection. 

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Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio who chose the name of Francis is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.

AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia

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Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio's election as pope has broken Europe's centuries-old grip on the papacy, opening the doors on a new age of simplicity and humility for the Roman Catholic Church, mired in intrigue and scandal.

He is the first South American pontiff, the first non-European pope in 1,300 years and the first to take the name Pope Francis, in honour of St. Francis of Assisi, the 12th century saint who spurned wealth to pursue a life of poverty.

His elevation on the second day of a closed-door conclave of cardinals came as a surprise, with many Vatican watchers expecting a longer deliberation, and none predicting the conservative 76-year-old Bergoglio would get the nod.

He looked as startled as everyone, hesitating a moment on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica before stepping out to greet the huge crowds gathered in the square below to catch a glimpse of the new pontiff.

"I ask a favour of you ... pray for me," he urged the cheering crowds, telling them the 114 other cardinal-electors "went almost to the end of the world" to find a new leader.

He also offered a prayer to his predecessor, Pope Benedict, who resigned unexpectedly last month, after saying he was too frail to tackle the many problems assailing the world's largest organisation, which has an estimated 1.2 billion members.

"Good night and have a good rest," Bergoglio said before disappearing back into the opulent surroundings of the Vatican City - a far cry from his simple apartment in Buenos Aires.

Delighted priests, nuns and pilgrims danced around the obelisk in the middle of St. Peter's Square, chanting: "Long Live the Pope" and "Argentina, Argentina".

In his native Argentina, jubilant Catholics poured into their local churches to celebrate.

"I hope he changes all the luxury that exists in the Vatican, that he steers the Church in a more humble direction, something closer to the gospel," said Jorge Andres Lobato, a 73-year-old retired state prosecutor.

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