The possibilities ranged from the front runner, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, to the dark horse, the popular Cardinal from New York, Timothy Dolan. In between a number of names had come up, but Scola had been the runner-up in 2005 when Benedict XVI was elected. His closeness to the ex-pope combined with his strong pastoral experience and conservative views made him the betting favorite. The Italian Bishops' Conference Wednesday even sent a congratulatory email to Cardinal Scola — tipped as a hot conclave favorite. Watching the news coverage on television was painful. As the cameras focused on the papal balcony, commentators kept mumbling the same things over and over while we waited. It was like listening to Phil Rizzuto during a Yankee game rain delay.
Finally the red curtains parted and the doors opened. The electricity in the crowd assembled in St. Peter's Square was palpable. Some prayed, some hollered, and some were clearly overcome by emotion. They were about to witness an announcement that, for the Catholic Church, is both solemn and joyous; the naming of the man who would be the spiritual father of them all. All eyes were on the elderly and frail French Cardinal
Jean-Louis Tauran as he told the waiting world that Argentine Jorge Bergoglio had been chosen. The crowd erupted, surprised and delighted that the first pope from the Americas was now their leader and had taken the name Francis I.
It is so hard for us to have any inkling of what the new pope must be feeling. To be plucked from relative obscurity in Buenos Aries and be set down on the world stage must have come as quite a shock. His humble demeanor in asking for the blessing of the people in his first act as pope give us some idea of the enormous responsibility now resting on his shoulders. In a joking allusion to his inadequacy for the job, Pope Francis chided the Cardinals at dinner with this quote: "I hope God will forgive you for what you have done." Indeed serious work lies ahead for this pope. The pedophile priest scandal is just one of the hot-button issues on his plate. Others include homosexuality, gay marriage and the role of women in the the church.
My initial impressions of the new pope are favorable. His humility and simplicity are appealing, shunning the royal trappings of his Office in favor of simpler things. He really seems to be a man of the people who eyes suspiciously the lavish lifestyles of high-ranking Vatican officials. He seems approachable and human, qualities that in my opinion did not emanate from our last pope. I paid special attention to the reactions of the priests and nuns in the square as the name of the new pope was announced. Their faces shone with hope, almost like workers who finally get a new boss that comes from the ranks and understands the job as they see it. The name he chose also says a lot about what his papacy could be. Francis of Assisi was called by God to rebuild his church, and we can only infer that our new pope hopes to do the same.
I will pray for Francis I that God gives him the strength and shows him the wisdom to carry on this mission for the good of Catholics everywhere.
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