Catholic World News has the best background information on Pope Francis I that I’ve been able to find at this early hour in his Papacy. Here, thanks to their website, is the description. You may also want to check out Our Sunday Visitor’s article on the new pontiff here.
Argentine Cardinal Bergoglio elected Pope Francis
The new Pontiff, who chose the name Pope Francis, is the first Latin American ever to become Roman Pontiff, and the first Jesuit.
The Argentine cardinal was elected on the 5th ballot of the conclave, and white smoke appeared from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel just after 2 pm on Wednesday, March 13. More than an hour lapsed before Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the senior cardinal-deacon, appeared on the central balcony of St. Peter’s basilica to make the traditional announcement: “Habemus papam!”
After another long pause the new Pope appeared, acknowledging the loud applause from more than 200,000 people packed into St. Peter’s Square. In his first remarks he led the crowd in prayers for Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI, then asked for prayers for himself before giving his Urbi et Orbi blessing.
“And now let us begin this journey, the bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust,” the new Pope said just before delivering his blessing. “Let us always pray for one another.”
Cardinal Tauran announced, and the new Pope confirmed, that everyone who received the Pope’s fist apostolic blessing–either in person or by a radio, television, or internet broadcast—would receive a plenary indulgence, subject to the usual conditions.
At 76, Pope Francis is old enough so that he had already submitted his resignation as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, as required by canon law. Pope Benedict had not chosen to accept that resignation. But the Argentine prelate’s age was the main reason why he was not prominently listed among the leading papabili going into the conclave.
According to several accounts, Cardinal Bergoglio had won as many as 40 votes in the conclave of 2005, emerging as the leading alternative to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before the latter was elected as Pope Benedict XVI. The Argentine prelate himself refused to comment on reports about the 2005 votes, saying that he was “confused and a bit hurt” by the knowledge that someone had violated the secrecy of the conclave.
Although some observers at that time saw Cardinal Bergoglio as a “liberal” alternative to the “conservative” Cardinal Ratzinger, the Argentine prelate does not fit a liberal mold. He has been firm in his defense of Church teachings on controversial issues such as abortion and homosexuality, drawing the ire of political radicals in Argentina. He has distanced himself from fellow Jesuits who promoted a leftist political agenda, and shown strong sympathy for the Communion and Liberation movement in Argentina.
Nevertheless the new Pontiff has shown an ability to draw support from different corners of the Catholic world. He is known for his personal humility, which is manifested in his decision to ride buses, live in a spare apartment, and make his own meals. He has a deep commitment to helping the poor, and a passion for evangelization.
By taking the name Francis the new Pope sent a dramatic message, appealing to the millions of people devoted to one of the Catholic world’s most popular saints. That the first Jesuit Pontiff would advance Franciscan spirituality is almost as striking as the reality that a man from Argentina has been named Bishop of Rome.
Born in Buenos Aires on December 17, 1936, Jorge Mario Bergoglio entered the Society of Jesus in 1958 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1969. He became an auxiliary bishop in Buenos Aires in 1992, and coadjutor in 1998, eventually being installed as archbishop in 1999. He was raised to the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II in 2001.
While he has served his entire priestly ministry in Argentina, the new Pope is well acquainted with the Vatican. At the time of his election to the papacy he was a member of the Congregations for Divine Worship, the Clergy, and Religious; the Pontifical Council for the Family, and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. He served as relator general for the Synod of Bishops in October 2001, after the prelate originally appointed to that post, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, rushed home in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In his first words to the public, speaking from the balcony of St. Peter’s basilica, Pope Francis—after finally quieting the enthusiastic crowd—remarked that the conclave had the duty of appointing a new Bishop of Rome. “It seems that my brother cardinals have gone almost to the ends of the earth to get him,” he joked, “but here we are.”
Later, after giving his Urbi et Orbi blessing, the Pope spoke simply to the crowd. “We will see one another soon,” he said. “Tomorrow I want to go to pray the Madonna, that she may protect Rome. Good night and sleep well.”