I am a bit late in getting this post out. Like many in this part of the world, I was working when the white smoke from the Sistine Chapel began pouring out and the bells of St Peter’s Basilica began to ring the announcement a new pope had been elected.
I put my work aside for awhile and glued my attention to the live YouTube feed broadcasted by Vatican TV. None of the other streaming feeds from news sites seemed to be working on my computer, and in many ways I was grateful to just watch the crowds pour in to the square by the thousands without commentary. I participated in the second largest event to be documented on Twitter by posting updates on my feed.
The suspense was palpable. The Vatican band marching in, followed by the city-state’s gendarme and a formation of Rome police, gathering on the large platform just under the papal balcony. I listened as the announcement finally came from Cardinal Deacon Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran – Habemeus Papam, we have a pope. Without translation, I only picked up that his name would be “Franciscum,” and the twitter updates quickly informed me that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina had been elected – the first Jesuit pope, the first to be elected from the Americas, the first to choose the name Francis, and one of the first popes to be elected from outside Europe in centuries.
I was speechless watching the new pope step out onto the balcony. With greetings in Spanish, he joked that the cardinals had gone to the ends of the earth to elect a pope from Argentina. Then, with great humility, before giving the traditional blessing, he asked for a moment of silence for the crowd to bless him. He bowed down before the crowd of hundreds of thousands who had fallen completely silent (pictured above).
Since then, I have participated in a celebratory mass of election for a new pope at my local church and have watched the daily report of our new pope’s activities. As a man who has a reputation for his generosity to the poor and his renunciation of finer things – as archbishop he gave up his chauffeured car to ride the bus and lived in a small apartment with a disabled Jesuit he cared for instead of the episcopal palace – Pope Francis has demonstrated that he will not allow his new position to change his belief in what is important. Caring for one another and turning our attention to God is the most important thing we can do.
Where Benedict was our teacher, Francis seems to be our father and pastor. Unlike any pope before him, he goes “off script” frequently to make jokes, which has endeared him to many. News reports have focused heavily on how he rejected the private car that would take him back to the hotel after his election to take the bus with the other cardinals. He sits at meals wherever there is an empty chair. The day after his election, he personally went to the hotel he had been staying at before conclave to pay his bill and collect his belongings when he could have easily sent someone to take care of this for him. He has also asked that the bishops from Argentina not attend his installation, but to take the money they would have used on travel to care for the poor.
It’s tempting for some to call this a “show,” but by all accounts, we’re getting the “real man.” This is how he’s always behaved, and is a sign of the things to come. I personally have already found inspiration in our new pope, and am grateful for his very real demonstration of Christian living. I pray for that same kind of compassion and perspective Francis has shown his whole life, and look forward to this new chapter of our church’s history.