Pope Francis, from Argentina, is introduced to the world

By staff writers
March 13, 2013

After white smoke emerged from the roof of the Sistine Chapel in Rome this evening, the world waited for the name of the man who will be the next leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

To the surprise of the gathered crowd and almost all commentators and Vatican-watchers, the new pope, who takes the name Francis, is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, Cardinal-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Aged 76, the new pontiff is regarded as a humble and pastoral man, with conservative views on bioethical issues and far more progressive ones on other social questions. He has been an Archbishop since 1998, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 2001.

It is believed that he received the second highest number of votes when Cardinal Josef Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.

The new Pope has emphasised the importance of spirituality throughout his ministry, and has adopted a very modest personal lifestyle - including travelling by public transport, living in a small apartment, and cooking his own meals.

He has voiced support for the poor, as well as publicly challenging neoliberal free-market policies. However, he has been criticized in some quarters for not speaking out robustly enough against the previous Argentinian military dictatorship.

Pope Francis has opposed same-sex relationships and has upheld the Church's teaching against the use of contraception, though in 2001 he visited a hospice, where he washed and kissed the feet of twelve AIDS patients.

The name Francis resonates with Francis Xavier, a fellow Jesuit, and also, for many, with Francis of Assisi.

He is not a 'Vatican insider', but is said to be wise and shrewd, as well as honest, in his dealings. He also has diplomatic experience and knows how things work in Rome.

Crowds in St Peter's Square cheered, bells rang out, and reporters scurried to their positions as the smoke appeared from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel earlier this evening (13 March 2013).

The first person to go out onto the balcony at St Peter's was not the new pope, but Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran. He announced Habemus Papam ("We have a Pope") and the Latin first name of the chosen man.

Pope Francis looked unemotional as he first stood before the cheering crowds, but then smiled and seemed relaxed when he spoke, after a simple personal greeting, "Buonasera".

Before he gave his traditional blessing on the crowd gathered in St Peter's Square, the new pope said, "Can I ask a favour of you?", and proceeded to request silent prayers from the assembly before he prayed himself.

The 115 cardinals from 67 countries and six continents have been in isolation since the afternoon of Tuesday 12 March 2013, and held four inconclusive votes before electing a Pope on the fifth ballot.

This is seen as a quick decision, strengthening speculation that the chosen man would be Cardinal Scolari of Milan. Cardinal Bergoglio's name took most by surprise.

The new incumbent will replace Benedict XVI, now pope emeritus, who stepped down at the end of February this year, saying that he was no longer physically or spiritually strong enough to lead the global Catholic Church.

Pope Francis is 76 years old, only a year younger than Benedict was when elected. But transitional papacies are not always without moment, as Pope John XXIII, who launched the Second Vatican Council, illustrated.

Chris Bain, the CEO of the Catholic aid agency CAFOD was among the first to welcome a pontiff from the global South in an interview from Rome this evening with the BBC.

Pope Francis I's inaugural Mass will be on 19 March 2013.

Update will follow.

* 'What the cardinals believe'. Find out, and contribute, here: http://www.cardinalrating.com/

* Papal #conclave: news, comment, background and analysis from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/PapalConclave

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