Habemus Papam! Francis, the Argentinean Bergoglio

Habemus Papam! Francis, the Argentinean Bergoglio

When the old, pale, thin Cardinal Tauran came out of that window, more than an hour after the white smoke, silence came down on the square that had been teeming with joy and screaming for hours and hours despite the incessant rain.

When Tauran started speaking in Latin and pronounced the words Georgium Marium, the first and middle names of the pope, no one had a clue as to who he was.



In my news bureau we were all expecting an Angelum, i.e. Angelo Scola. He was the only one who could have found the necessary 77 ballots in just 5 voting sessions, we all thought. And this is what I tweeted. The fact that he also deleted his twitter account was another clear sign that he was the chosen one. Furthermore, a seagull was seen hovering around and stopping on top of the chimney that day, and the seagull is the symbol of Saint Ambrose, the patron of Milan, cardinal Scola’s seat. I also anticipated that Scola would choose Pius XIII as a name….

Jorge Mario Bergoglio was not even on the radar of the possible contenders. We all knew he got fewer votes than Joseph Ratzinger 8 years ago, at the previous Conclave. We thought that was his last and only attempt to become pope. But things were different from what I knew, he wasn’t defeated at the time, he simply said he didn’t feel ready to be pontiff. This time, the second time the cardinals wanted him on top, he just couldn’t say no. And he now is pope Francis.



How come there had never been a Francis in the whole history of the Catholic church or at least after Francis of Assisi, a towering figure of the Catholic world and culture? Well the answer goes beyond the scope of this blog which is not into politics or religious issues but I guess you understand the answer. For centuries the role of the pope was that of an extremely powerful, unrestricted and wealthy ruler, which didn’t really match Saint Francis’ profile, story, teachings and deeds.

But Bergoglio wants to be a humble, simple pope because he was such a cardinal and bishop. Those who had the privilege to know him in Buenos Aires confirmed it. And his first appearance and words also make it clear he’s going to be a kind spiritual leader.



Well, after card. Tauran spelled his surname the crowd in St. Peter’s square didn’t much react. Who is this Bergoglio, they wondered. This new pope has an Italian sounding surname (his grandparents were born in Piedmont, north-western Italy), isn’t he another Italian from the ill-famed Roman Curia, they dreaded?

No he isn’t, definitely not. And my colleagues and I all knew who he was. But we were nonetheless shocked. We hadn’t anything ready about him. It was chaos, panic and astonishment. It took sometime before we realized the immense boldness of that vote: for the first time in the Catholic Church’s history there was a pope who was not born in Europe, in 35 years (1978-2013) the Holy See had snapped a centuries-old tradition of Italian popes and a sequence of two European pontiffs. Something was moving, eventually….

And not only he’s extra-European but he comes from the area of the world with the most lively community of Catholics: Latin America. Furthermore, he extensively knows poverty and what are the major social problems of big cities, having spent most of his life in Buenos Aires’ poor suburbs. Last but not least he is a Spanish speaker, another important feature since Spanish is now the most common language in the Catholic world. What is less important, but must anyway added to complete his profile, is the fact that he is a Jesuit. It is the first time that this major, highly educated Catholic order has a pope, but Bergoglio is a sort of maverick Jesuit, he is not in line with the black priests who were founded in Rome by Ignacio de Loyola in the 16th century and whose powerful and influential leader is labeled as the black pope (in contrast with the typical white clothes of the real and only Pope).



When the smoke started getting out of that weird chimney at 7:06 pm CET, most of my colleagues thought it would be white. They had made their calculations and anticipated that such a delay could only be explained by the actions that usually follow the election of the new pope. The smoke’s color was not very easy to tell. It was white first, it then turned darker, grey nearly, and then became whitish again. Italy’s largest and best newswire, ANSA, the one which made the scoop on Benedict XVI’s resignation, wrote twice that it was white and black, at 7:06 and again at 7:10. They were in total chaos, really. But the bells were the final proof that a pope had just been elected.

It took 80 long minutes (the longest wait in recent times) before we could know who he was, though. In my news bureau we were all pretty sure it would be Angelo Scola, but were surprised that there were no rumors, no spoilers, absolutely nothing coming out of the Vatican. How come in Twitter times?

And then it was him, this friendly guy, with such a shy, nice tenure, saying hi like anyone else in this world. He immediately established an intimate relationship with the crowds thanking all the people who were there. He prayed with the crowds and asked people to pray for the pope, saying they were one and the same. Moving indeed.



And he also did homage to the city of Rome. Maybe because I was born here, but I was really impressed when he said “The cardinals had to choose someone to lead the Church of Rome and they picked him from a place that is very, very far from here, at the end of the world. I am first of all the Bishop of Rome.” Touché.

And he never pronounced the word pope, did you notice it? What a low profile, low key, collaborative attitude he has…..He won’t be a king, an absolute monarch, as the Vatican constitution states he can be, he will rather be a facilitator, a coordinator.



Final remarks. Some of his funniest online pictures see him holding soccer jerseys and gadgets. How could it be otherwise? Being an Argentinean from Buenos Aires, where soccer is nearly a religion….. Well if you really want to know his team it is the San Lorenzo Almagro, whose color are red and blue. This will be very much appreciated in a city like Rome, where the only sport is soccer and whose main teams, Roma and Lazio, have been hosting many excellent players from Argentina. The most famous currently playing are the midfielder Ledesma for Lazio and the forward Osvaldo (who is actually an Italo-Argentinean) for Roma. And, always with regards to soccer, some Romans noticed that having a pope Francis is a tribute to the city’s best soccer player of all times Francesco Totti.



Anyway, there seem to be more Argentineans in the Roma and Lazio clubs than there were in a literally packed St Peter’s square with people from all over the world as only two light blue and white flags could be seen. And my colleagues in the square couldn’t interview anyone from the pope’s land. Only ANSA was lucky enough to find one, literally one. Argentineans neither expected their only cardinal to become pope.


What next? The new pope said in his inaugural remarks that he wants to thank the Virgin Lady and he will pay tribute to Mary in S. Maria Maggiore, the first church ever dedicated to Mary in the world. He will then choose a new Secretary of State, the head of the Vatican’s Government. And we are happy for that, because there is really a lot to fix in there.



But right after being elected, Bergoglio did one remarkable thing, he called Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo to show him that he is not a forgotten, abandoned retired person in the papal summer residence. And even while speaking from St. Peter’s terrace his first words were for him. A very generous gesture. Bergoglio doesn’t want to be a solitary, undisputed leader. He will be everyone’s pope, believers or not, Catholics or not. He will take care of the poor, the sick, the lonely, immigrants, the old, the handicapped people. He is a great, inspiring figure and he will make this world a better place. Please visit Rome and greet him, he needs your moral support to undertake these overwhelming tasks!