The Edmond Sun

March 15, 2013

The Salem, Mass., News: World’s Catholics welcome new pope


CNHI News Service

EDMOND — There was high drama in Rome on Wednesday as the world tuned in via live-streaming Internet and satellite television links to see a smoke signal transmitted from within a 15th-century chapel.

Just after 2 p.m. here — 7 p.m. in Italy — white smoke streamed from a chimney in the Sistine Chapel. An hour later came the announcement in Latin: “Habemus papam!” We have a pope.

The new pope was formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires. He has chosen the name Francis I.

In addition to being the first named Francis, the new pope has set a number of other precedents. He is the first Jesuit to be named a pope. He is the first pope from the New World and the first from the Southern Hemisphere. The native of Argentina is the first pope to have been born outside Europe in 1,272 years. The last was Gregory III, born in Syria, whose papal reign ended in 741.

Speculation prior to the papal conclave that began Tuesday was that the 115 voting members of the College of Cardinals would be seeking a reform-minded pope, someone who could assist in the recovery of a church still reeling from a sex abuse scandal and who could clear out the entrenched bureaucracy in the Vatican, the Curia.

Many local Catholics were hopeful the new pope would confront the issues facing the church, including the lingering effects of the priest sex abuse scandal.

Francis seems to be an ideal choice to lead a reform effort. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he lived simply, eschewing the elaborate official residence for a private apartment where he lived alone, cooked his own meals and took the bus to work. He is known for his devotion to the poor. Clearly, Bergoglio has been modeling himself after his papal namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.

“It’s a genius move,” Marco Politi, a papal biographer and veteran Vatican watcher, told The Washington Post. “It’s a non-Italian, non-European, not a man of the Roman government. It’s an opening to the Third World, a moderate. By taking the name Francis, it means a completely new beginning.”

The selection of a pope is of interest not only to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. The pope is a leader of great moral influence around the globe, as John Paul II so recently demonstrated. The process of selecting a pope is a ritual of great history, dignity and beauty that one witnesses just a handful of times in a lifetime.