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We Have A New Pope

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We Have A New Pope

Post  Admin on Fri Mar 15, 2013 12:25 am

There was white smoke over Rome after dark fell there, and bells were tolling. After only a little more than a day, a new Pope had been chosen, on the fifth ballot. An hour of uncertainty passed, then a French cardinal came out and announced, in Latin, the name this Pope was leaving behind: Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and a Jesuit. He got to pick a new name; John Paul I, the Pope of thirty-three days, chose his as a symbol of combining the qualities of Paul VI and John XXIII. So it might matter a good deal that Bergoglio chose Francis, evoking the Saint of Assisi and his commitment to the poor. He will be the first Pope with this name. If that symbol will have to be proven out, the selection of a Pope from Latin America is a more immediate one. It affirms the Church’s transformation, and may give it better footing in the world, if not a grasp of it.

Pope Francis is seventy-six. He reportedly came in second when Benedict XVI was elected. He was born in Buenos Aires, in 1936. There have been African Popes, a millennium and a half ago, but Francis is the first non-European since then, and the first ever from what old Popes call the New World. One of the first details mentioned after his name became known was that he takes public transportation. As with kings, we like to imagine Popes in disguise, walking in dark streets. That is not so likely, whatever Francis’s preferences: when he came out, after a moment in which the curtain on the balcony overlooking the square seemed to quiver, he smiled in a way that made him hard to forget. It made him seem, really, like someone who had been known to the crowd for a long time. That may just be the daze of a first-glance surprise, but it is different from the reaction to Benedict.

The white smoke, by the way, was from the burning of the ballots. So is the black smoke, but different chemicals are shaken on top of each, as they are put in a special oven, in one of the gestures in which Vatican officials assume the aspect of alchemists. This morning, as the Times reported, the Vatican gave out the recipe: for white and a Pope, add potassium chlorate, milk sugar, and pine rosin. (Andy Borowitz, our satirical correspondent, came up with the headline “VATICAN CALLS WHITE SMOKE A FALSE ALARM: ‘WE WERE JUST BURNING DOCUMENTS’ ”) There are documents that may be troubling waiting for Francis in a safe in the sealed Papal apartments, the detritus of the Vatileaks mess. One wonders if he will be troubled by what he reads there, or if he will shrug. Most radically, he might do something about it, and about the many troubles the Church is in.
President Obama, in congratulating Francis, called him “a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us.” Maybe he will be. One should assume a baseline of conservatism on certain issues, though, including on ones involving the lives of women. And, according to the Catholic News Service, when Argentina legalized gay marriage, in 2010, Bergoglio “encouraged clergy across the country to tell Catholics to protest.” (There are also questions about what he may have failed to protest during Argentina’s Dirty War.) How theologically conservative Francis really is, and how willing he is to be humble when it comes to the Church’s prerogatives and its scandals, are different questions; still, they are related.

An hour after the smoke came out, the name still hadn’t leaked. People still repeated the names of the same candidates: Scola, Turkson, Scherer, Dolan. Almost no one expected Bergoglio. The crowds in Saint Peter’s Square are shouting and dancing; they still are waving the flags of different contenders, Brazilian, Italian, and American, too. Maybe some were put in backpacks when Bergoglio came out, or tossed to the Vatican marching band that came out in the square to fill the ecclesiastical halftime, with guards in blue cloaks with metal helmets and musicians wearing hats with red and white feathers. When he told a joke about how far the cardinals had gone to look for him they laughed. They even cheered and joined his prayer for Benedict. He asked the crowd to bless him—“pray in silence for me.” He also said, “Let’s pray for the world.”


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