It’s with great joy that we watched the white smoke billow up from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel. For the next hour, the entire world was abuzz with excitement: who is the new pope? Both social and traditional media exploded with the news as the planet stared at the curtains above the the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica waiting for the next Vicar of Christ to step out on the balcony.
For weeks, people speculated about the “papibili,” the most likely candidates. It seems that the entire College of Cardinals was scrutinized one-by-one. A number of lists were published as people shared their thoughts on likely candidates. The news media had their favorites, many families and classrooms had adopted a cardinal, but in the end, the Holy Spirit showed that God is still in charge of His Church. Cardinal Jean-Louise Pierre Tauran shocked the crowd at St. Peter’s, and the world, with the new pope’s first name: Georgium. A minute later, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the previous Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, slowly came forward wearing a simple white cassock. His name was a surprise as well–Francis.
It was a moment of many firsts: the first pope from the Americas, the first Jesuit elected pope, the first to take the name Francis, and the first non-European pope since Gregory III since 731 (he was from Syria).
As he stepped out of the window, he seemed to be in as much shock as the rest of the world. It took him a few moments before he even waved. And it seems that with his first words, he won over the world: “Buona sera” (Good evening, in Italian). “You all know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother Cardinals have come almost to the ends of the earth to get him… but here we are. I thank you for the welcome that has come from the diocesan community of Rome.”
And then another first: he asked for prayers for Benedict XVI. After an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be in Italian, he stunned the world again with a simply request, “Pray for me.” He asked that the entire world pray to God to bless him in his new ministry. And folding his hands, he bowed. In a matter of seconds, the hundred-thousand people in St. Peter’s Square that had been shouting phrases such as “Viva il papa” was silenced as the entire world paused to pray.
It’s said that the first impression is the most important. Pope Francis has stormed the world as a pope of humility. These are his first impressions:
Questions for discussion:
- What is your first impression of Pope Francis?
- The election was only 5 ballots and lasted around 24 hours. What significance might that have?
- Why the name Francis? After whom? Significance?
- St. Francis heard the words “re-build my church” and it spurred him to become the great saint he is today. Do you think that fact influenced his decision to pick the name Francis?
- What was your reaction to the announcement of white smoke? Where were you? What was your feeling like during that hour between the smoke and his appearance on the balcony?
- Judging from his first day, what kind of pope do you think he will be? What do you think his focus will be in his papacy? What sort of work do you foresee him doing?
- As the first pope from the Americas, how do you think his Argentinean heritage will affect the way he will shepherd the Church?
- Pope Francis dispensed with several traditions while on the balcony. He refused a gold pectoral cross for a wooden one, didn’t stand on a platform that elevated him above the other cardinals, didn’t wear the mozzetta (there are several versions, but the famous one is the ermine-lined red cape that popes wear) and asked the world to pray for him first. Why and what does it mean?
- It is obvious that Francis is a pope with a different personality and style than Benedict and John Paul II. What similarities do you think he will focus on?
- Francis made it a point to stop and pray at the tomb of St. Pius V (1566-1572) in the basilica of St. Mary Major. St. Pius V is a pope famous for his reforms: cleaning up the curia, excommunicating heretical bishops and Elizabeth I, and cleaning up immorality in the church. Benedict prayed at the tomb of St. Celestine V–twice–the pope who abdicated for the good of the church. Reaction? Especially in light of his personality? (Note: he also arrived at the basilica in a standard sedan, not the Mercedes with the papal license plate SCV1 traditionally used by the pope)