Pope Francis emerges to cheers of 'Viva il Papa'

The selection of Jorge Bergoglio, a Jesuit from Argentina, to be the next head of the Catholic Church electrified Rome.

Gregorio Borgia/AP
Pope Francis speaks from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican tonight. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis, is the 266th pontiff of the Catholic Church.

Jorge Bergoglio, a Jesuit from Argentina, was named as the new pope this evening, becoming the first pope from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium. He took the name Francis I.

The new pope, dressed in white vestments and with a crucifix around his neck, greeted a huge crowd packed into St. Peter’s Square, at the end of a day of drama. He drew a huge cheer with his first few words, greeting the crowd with “Buona sera!” good evening.

Cardinal Bergoglio was a hugely unexpected choice – he had not featured in any of the front-runner lists that were drawn up by Vatican watchers in the days before his election.

He stepped out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s after a cardinal in scarlet robes had announced “Habemus Papam" – "We have a pope!"

Bergoglio had reportedly finished second in the 2005 conclave that produced Benedict XVI – who last month became the first pope to resign in almost 600 years. The 76-year-old archbishop of Buenos Aires has spent nearly his entire career at home in Argentina.

Marco Politi, a well-known Vatican analyst, says: “I think it’s a good move. He’s not Italian, he’s not European, he’s not a man of the Curia [the Holy See’s governing body]. He represents an opening to the developing world.

“I think Francis I signifies a completely new beginning. He’s a moderate man with some reformist tendencies. He’s a man of the center but open to reform and to a more positive vision of the Church.”

He made his first public appearance as pope more than an hour after white smoked billowed from a chimney fixed to the roof of the Sistine Chapel – the sign that the 115 cardinals below had chosen a new pontiff from among themselves.

The appearance of the white smoke electrified Rome. Within seconds, people were running up the broad avenue that leads from the banks of the River Tiber to St. Peter’s Square.

“They’ve chosen, they’ve chosen,” a woman told her daughter as they hurried across rain-slick cobbles. Another woman exclaimed: “Ah, bellisimo!”

Groups of young people cheered and sang and dance in front of television cameras and mobile phone networks crashed as tens of thousands of people made calls to friends and relatives.

They waved flags and shouted “Viva il Papa,” as more and more people crammed into the square.

There was then a long wait in the drizzle for the new pope to appear at the balcony.

“We were at home in Trastevere [a quarter of Rome] when we heard. Downstairs from our flat there is a bar where people normally watch the football. There was shouting and the woman who owns it started ringing a bell. We came over straightaway,” says Helen Crombie, a long-time British resident of Rome who works as a translator.

“This may never happen again in our lifetimes,” says her husband, Gabriele Maritati, a surgeon.

As the bells of St. Peter’s rang out, Jacob Resnick from Rochester, N.Y., who had a US flag draped over his shoulders, says: “It’s exciting, and it’s also a relief to finally see the white smoke because we’ve been waiting here for hours in the rain. It’s monumental.”

Lincoln Young, from Connecticut, says: “It’s amazing to be here for such a historic moment, regardless of who is elected, whether he is an American or not. I was just about to walk away. I thought the smoke would be black.”

“We study 500 meters away. We were in an Italian class when I got a message and I said, ‘Excuse me but we have a pope.’ Then we rushed to a supermarket to buy something to drink and the man gave us a bottle of wine for free,” says Maria Skolozynska from Poland.

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