VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Shortly after his election on Wednesday night, Pope Francis shunned the papal limousine and rode on the last shuttle bus with other cardinals to go back to a residence inside the Vatican for a meal.
That showed his humble side, according to New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who gave an insider’s look into the hours immediately after Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was elected.
Dolan said most of the cardinals had taken buses back to their residence in the Vatican and had lined up to greet the new pope as he arrived for their last meal as a group.
They were expecting him to arrive in the limousine that they had seen waiting for him at the base of the Apostolic Palace.
“And as the last bus pulls up, guess who gets off? It’s Pope Francis. I guess he told the driver ‘That’s OK, I’ll just go with the boys,’” Dolan told reporters at the American seminary in Rome, the North American College.
Inside the residence, during the dinner, Dolan said the new pope showed his humorous side.
“We toasted him and when he toasted us he said: ‘May God forgive you,’ which brought the house down,” he said.
He made them laugh again when he told the cardinals, who held seven days of pre-conclave meetings and two days in the conclave: “I am going to sleep well tonight and something tells me you are too.”
Kim Daniels, director of Catholic Voices USA, was struck by the humility the pope exhibited when he emerged on the balcony.
“He kneeled down. He asked for the crowd’s blessing. We saw him pray along with the crowd the Our Father, the Hail Mary, joining us all in those prayers that are so familiar to Catholics,” she said.
“It was a sign of humility. It was a sign that holiness is the most important thing here. It is so, so wonderful to see someone really focus on prayer like that.”
And he sounded almost grandfatherly as he wished the crowd, “Good night and sleep well.”
His choice of dress also sent a message. Francis steered clear of the fur-trimmed red cape known as a mozzetta that popes often wear for ceremonial occasions, and put on a stole only for his blessing. That is in keeping with a personal style that has been considered the antithesis of Vatican splendor.
The new pope told the cardinals that on Thursday he would visit Pope Emeritus Benedict at the papal summer retreat south of Rome, visit a Rome basilica and, joking again, Francis said: “I also have to stop by the residence to pick up my luggage and pay the bill.”
Dolan described the emotion inside the Sistine Chapel as Bergoglio reached 77 votes, the two-thirds majority needed to elect him.
“We broke into applause but then we had to wait until the rest of the votes were counted and applauded again at the end and still again when he said he accepted the election,” Dolan said.
Minutes after his election, the new pope went into the Sistine Chapel’s sacristy to change into the white papal vestments.
The sacristy is known as the “room of tears,” because it is there where a new pope first feels the weight of the papacy.
When he came out, a throne-like chair had been set on a platform but Francis preferred to greet the cardinals from a chair at their own level, Dolan said.
The new pope told the 114 cardinals who elected him that he had chosen the name Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, who is known in Catholicism as “the little poor one” because he renounced earthly goods.
There had been some speculation that since Bergoglio is a member of the Jesuit religious order, he may have chosen the name in honor of St. Francis Xavier, one of the first Jesuits.
“He quickly clarified that,” Dolan said.
Dolan said the election of Francis will be “a booster shot to the Church in the Americas, a real blessing.”
“There is a sense of relief in all of us because we now have a good new shepherd,” Dolan said. “He is an extraordinarily down-to-earth man… a man of confidence and poise, a beautiful sincerity and simplicity.”
A Number Of Firsts
Meanwhile, the new pope can claim a large number of firsts: He became the first Latin American and the first Jesuit to be selected pope and the first pontiff to take the name Francis.
But the Argentinian has set himself apart in other ways as well.
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he didn’t want to move into a palace or have a chauffeur, so he lived in an apartment, took the bus and insisted on cooking his own meals.
His reputation as a humble leader of the Catholic Church also emerged in his first remarks as pope Wednesday night. He appeared dressed in papal white to a cheering crowd in St Peter’s Square and instead of first blessing the crowd as per tradition, he asked the faithful to pray for him.
He also showed some humor, commenting that his fellow cardinals had gone to “almost the end of the world” to find him.
From the moment the white smoke issued from a chimney atop the Sistine Chapel to signal cardinals had elected the church’s new leader, signals were also sought about what kind of chief the 76-year-old Francis would be for a church beset by infighting, scandal and dwindling global appeal.
The bar is set high as the Catholic faithful hope for a leader with the charisma of Pope John Paul II, the theological rigor of Benedict XVI, and the energy and organizational leadership of a multinational chief executive bent on reform.
It began with the announcement of the cardinal protodeacon, Frenchman Jean-Louis Tauran, from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica: “Nuntio vobis gaudium magnum, habemus papam.” (“I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope.”)
While Francis is from Latin America, his parents hail from the church’s heartland, Italy. He is said to love football, tango, and Beethoven and built a reputation in Argentina as a defender of the poor.
He also held by the church’s conservative teachings on social issues – such as opposing abortion, gay marriage and the ordination of women – leading him to clash repeatedly with political leaders, including President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
However, his opposition to Argentina’s military leaders who ruled from 1976 to 1983 while conducting a Dirty War against the opposition was faint. His critics have gone as far as to accuse him of collaborating with the military authorities.
He became the 266th pope after Benedict’s surprise resignation in February and after five rounds of voting by 115 cardinal electors on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Francis had been seen as a contender for the top job by Vatican experts but not as a front-runner, given his age.
Francesco Clementi, an expert on Vatican governance from the University of Perugia, said that while Francis is “a very simple man,” he has significant government skills, having had working experience in many of the Church’s institutions.
Bergoglio’s deputy at the archdiocese of Buenos Aires, Eduardo Garcia, described the new pope as “a very simple, very humble pastor.”
His dance card is now certainly full. In the coming days, Francis was expected to pray privately before meeting Thursday with the cardinals who elected him in the Sistine Chapel.
He was due to meet the press Saturday, recite the Angelus Sunday and be formally inaugurated with a public Mass in St Peter’s Square Tuesday.
Hopes For PH
As this developed, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle said Pope Francis has high hopes for the Philippines.
“When I approached Pope Francis to assure him of the closeness and collaboration of the Filipinos, he said: I have high hopes for the Philippines. May your faith prosper, as well as your devotion to Our Lady and mission to the poor,” the cardinal said in his message on the election of His Holiness Pope Francis.
“What a compelling message from this humble man of God! All praise and glory to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” added Tagle.
The cardinal then urged the people to join the whole Church and the world in thanking God for His special gift in the extraordinary person of Pope Francis.
Tagle also took the opportunity to thank all those who prayed for the cardinal electors.
“I thank you for your fervent prayers for the Cardinal Electors. We never felt alone even for a moment. Your love sustained us,” he said.
The Philippine Province Society of Jesus also joined the rest of the world in welcoming the election of Pope Francis, who is the first Jesuit pope.
“The Philippine Province Society of Jesus rejoices with the rest of the Church that our cardinals have so quickly been able to name a new Holy Father. They have chosen a man with long experience leading God’s people in Argentina, with a heart very much concerned for the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, and whose manner of life is touched by great simplicity and faith,” Jose C.J. Magadia, S.J. Provincial, said in a statement.
“We are grateful for his generosity and spirit of service to assume the heavy burden that goes with his office in these difficult times. We certainly pledge him our prayers and filial support, and wish him grace, wisdom and strength as he assumes this new mission,” he added.
“That Pope Francis comes from the Society of Jesus and shares with them the spirituality of St. Ignatius is a special gift, but of secondary importance to his own deep commitment to the Lord and his having remained a loyal son of Christ’s Church, giving so much of his long life to making it an instrument of truth and clarity for all. May the Lord make him to be a continuing source of blessing, hope and unity for a world so much in need of these,” said Magadia.
Who’s Pope Francis?
The new pope was born in Buenos Aires on Dec. 17, 1936, to Mario Bergoglio, an immigrant from northern Italy, and Regina Bergoglio, a homemaker. He came relatively late to the priesthood, enrolling in a seminary only at the age of 21, after studying chemistry. He has had health concerns since his youth, having had a lung removed because of an infection.
By all accounts, he was a brilliant student who relished the study not just of theology but also of secular subjects like psychology and literature. He was ordained a priest a few days short of turning 33, and from that point on, his ascent within the church was rapid: by 1973, he had been named the Jesuit provincial for Argentina, the church official in charge of supervising the order’s activities in the country. (With reports from AP, DPA, and The New York Times)