There was high drama in Rome 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 of 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 sex-abuse scandal and who could clear out the entrenched bureaucracy in the Vatican, the Curia.
Among the other reformists considered “papabili,” or possible popes, was Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley.
“May God grant Pope Francis the grace and strength to lead the worldwide community of more than 1 billion Catholics,” O’Malley said in a statement released by the Archdiocese of Boston. “The Holy Father has already shown us his deep humility in the invitation to pray with him, for him and for the Church. We pray that the Holy Spirit, who led us to choose the Holy Father, will guide him in witnessing the eternal truths of our faith.”