Pope Francis (C) appears at the window of St Peter's Basilica's balcony to address the crowd. —Photo by AFP
Pope Francis (C) appears at the window of St Peter's Basilica's balcony to address the crowd. —Photo by AFP

VATICAN CITY: Before they even saw his face, Pope Francis had already won over the Roman masses.    

The announcement that he would be known by the same name as St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of Italy, sent the crowd into ecstasy.

He did even better with his first words, when the 76-year-old Argentine said the cardinals had reached to the ''end of the earth'' to find the bishop of Rome - recalling the beloved Pope John Paul II, a Polish cardinal who told his first crowd in 1978 that cardinals had called him ''from a far country.''

Francis is first pope from the Americas

Pope Francis during a mass in memory of the 194 dead during a fire in Cromagnon discotheque in Buenos Aires in 2005. —Photo by AFP
Pope Francis during a mass in memory of the 194 dead during a fire in Cromagnon discotheque in Buenos Aires in 2005. —Photo by AFP

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis is the first ever from the Americas, an austere Jesuit intellectual who modernized Argentina's conservative Catholic church.    

Known until Wednesday as Jorge Bergoglio, the 76-year-old is seen as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed. He came close to becoming pope last time, reportedly gaining the second-highest vote, before he bowed out of the running in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.

Bergoglio often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina's capital. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.

He accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy and forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.

''Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit,'' Bergoglio told Argentina's priests last year.

Bergoglio's legacy as cardinal includes his efforts to repair the reputation of a church that lost many followers by failing to openly challenge Argentina's murderous 1976-83 dictatorship. He also worked to recover the church's traditional political influence in society, but his outspoken criticism of President Cristina Kirchner couldn't stop her from imposing socially liberal measures that are anathema to the church, from gay marriage and adoption to free contraceptives for all.

''In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don't baptize the children of single mothers because they weren't conceived in the sanctity of marriage,'' Bergoglio told his priests. ''These are today's hypocrites. Those who clericalise the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it's baptized!''

Bergoglio compared this concept of Catholicism, ''this Church of 'come inside so we make decisions and announcements between ourselves and those who don't come in, don't belong,'' to the Pharisees of Christ's time - people who congratulate themselves while condemning all others.    This sort of pastoral work, aimed at capturing more souls and building the flock, was an essential skill for any religious leader in the modern era, said Bergoglio's authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin.

But Bergoglio himself felt most comfortable taking a very low profile, and his personal style was the antithesis of Vatican splendor. ''It's a very curious thing: When bishops meet, he always wants to sit in the back rows. This sense of humility is very well seen in Rome,'' Rubin said before the 2013 conclave to choose Benedict's successor.

Argentine Catholics overjoyed at 1st Latam pope

Roman Catholics celebrate at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires. —Photo by Reuters
Roman Catholics celebrate at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires. —Photo by Reuters

BUENOS AIRES: Latin Americans reacted with joy, bursting into tears and cheers on Wednesday at news that an Argentine cardinal has become the first pope from the hemisphere.    

''It's incredible!'' said Martha Ruiz, 60, who was weeping tears of emotion after learning that the cardinal she knew as Jorge Mario Bergoglio will now be Pope Francis.

She said she had been in many meetings with the cardinal and said, ''He is a man who transmits great serenity.''

There was excitement as well elsewhere.

At the St. Francis of Assisi church in the colonial Old San Juan district in Puerto Rico, church secretary Antonia Veloz exchanged jubilant high-fives with Jose Antonio Cruz, a Franciscan friar.

Cruz said he personally favored the Brazilian candidate, but was pleased with the outcome, saying the new pope would help revitalize the church.

''It's a huge gift for all of Latin America. We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait,'' said Cruz, wearing the brown cassock tied with a rope that is the signature of the Franciscan order. ''Everyone from Canada down to Patagonia is going to feel blessed. This is an event.''

''This is something exciting,'' the 50-year-old Veloz said of the new Argentine pope. ''I'm speechless.'' In Santo Domingo, the bells pealed in the city's main cathedral in the colonial district.

In Panama City, public relations executive Nelsa Aponte said with teary eyes, ''This made me cry, I had to get out my handkerchief.''

''We have a new pastor, and for the first time, he is from Latin America.''

EU urges pope to promote 'peace, solidarity, human dignity'

Faithful cheer as they wait for the newly elected pope to appear on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. —Photo by Reuters
Faithful cheer as they wait for the newly elected pope to appear on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. —Photo by Reuters

BRUSSELS: The European Union offered its “sincere congratulations” to the newly-elected Pope Francis I of Argentina, urging him to promote peace, solidarity and human dignity in a rapidly changing world.

“On behalf of the European Union, we convey our sincere congratulations on your election,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso said in a joint statement.

“We wish you a long and blessed Pontificate, which will allow your Holiness and the Catholic Church to defend and promote the fundamental values of peace, solidarity and human dignity,” they said.

“They are essential signposts in a world facing numerous challenges and undergoing deep change. We are convinced that your Holiness will continue to further with determination and strength the work of your predecessors by bringing the world's people and religions closer together.”

Obama hails 'first pope from the Americas'

Obama answers a question about the new pope in Washington. —Photo by AFP
Obama answers a question about the new pope in Washington. —Photo by AFP

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama offered “warm wishes” on behalf of the American people to newly elected Pope Francis I, hailing the Argentine as “the first pope from the Americas.”

“As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than two thousand years, that in each other we see the face of God,” Obama said.

“On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I offer our warm wishes to His Holiness Pope Francis as he ascends to the Chair of Saint Peter and begins his papacy,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.

“His selection also speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world, and alongside millions of Hispanic Americans, those of us in the United States share the joy of this historic day,” Obama added.

“Just as I appreciated our work with Pope Benedict XVI, I look forward to working with His Holiness to advance peace, security and dignity for our fellow human beings, regardless of their faith.”

Obama and his family are Protestant Christians, sharing the faith of about half of US citizens.

Around a quarter of Americans are Roman Catholics, or around 80 million people, the fourth largest national group in the Church.      UN's Ban says pope must work on inter-faith relations

The Apostolic Nuncio of Nicaragua Fortunatus Nwachukwu (C) and other religious men celebrate the election of the new Pope,  in Managua. —Photo by AFP
The Apostolic Nuncio of Nicaragua Fortunatus Nwachukwu (C) and other religious men celebrate the election of the new pope in Managua. —Photo by AFP

UNITED NATIONS: UN leader Ban Ki-Moon called on the new pope, Francis I, to build on efforts to improve relations between the world's different religions.

In a statement welcoming the election of the new pontiff, Ban said he was certain that Francis I would “build on the legacy of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, in the promotion of inter-faith dialogue.”

Ban also said the United Nations and the Roman Catholic Church shared the “common goals” of promoting peace, social justice and human rights, and the eradication of poverty and hunger.

“We also share the conviction that we can only resolve the interconnected challenges of today's world through dialogue.

New pope must deal with divided church in United States

Americans watch the announcement of newly elected Pope Francis at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. —Photo by Reuters
Americans watch the announcement of newly elected Pope Francis at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. —Photo by Reuters

CHICAGO: Pope Francis will face a divided Church in the United States, with the faithful at odds over issues like contraception, same-sex marriage and married priests.

In the United States, the results of November's presidential election highlighted the divide between Catholics who want the Church to modernise and those who favor its traditional ways.

US Catholic bishops pushed hard against policies favoring gay marriage and contraception, warning of the “intrinsic evils” of the Democratic platform. But post-election polling showed that most US Catholics favored Democratic President Barack Obama.

46 per cent of Catholics surveyed said the new pontiff should “move in new directions”, while 51 per cent say he should “maintain traditional positions”, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted last month.

Donna Doucette, executive director of Voice of the Faithful, a group of lay Catholics that formed in 2002 in reaction to the clergy sex scandals, said she had mixed opinions about Pope Francis, who is not known to be a liberal.

“We are definitely waiting to see,” Doucette said. “It remains to be seen whether he is a person of the 21st century or the 17th century.”

National polls also show continuing anger over the clergy sexual abuse scandal in the United States, which has resulted in the bankruptcies of prominent archdioceses and cost the Church in America an estimated $3 billion in settlements. A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted over the past week showed that most American Catholics name the scandal as the biggest problem facing the Church.

About 25 per cent of US residents are Roman Catholic, but that number has been buoyed by a continuing influx of Hispanic immigrants. Lapsed Catholics have become the nation's second largest religious classification, after Catholics, representing 10 per cent of US residents, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

A Chicago woman who calls herself a “recovering Catholic,” said she left the Church because she finds its views “too archaic” on homosexuality, birth control and women's ordination.

“It made me sad to be in an organization that says love your neighbor, but not if your neighbor is any of these things,” said Barbara Richter, 27, a science teacher with the Chicago Public Schools.

Even those who continue to identify as Catholics find themselves at odds with some Church teachings, particularly on the subject of contraception. A 2012 Gallup poll found that 82 per cent of US Catholics found birth control morally acceptable, even though it is prohibited by the Church.

Among most US Catholics surveyed, 54 per cent also support gay marriage, compared to 47 per cent of all Americans, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released this month.

Also, 58 per cent of Catholics think it would be good if priests could marry, compared with 35 per cent who disagree, according to a Pew Forum poll. Among Catholics who said they attend Mass weekly, 46 per cent said priests should not be allowed to marry, while 43 per cent objected.

Some US Catholics see the increasing traditionalism of the Church as a positive development and a source of strength. Terry Sullivan, a parishioner at St. John Cantius in Chicago, which has regular Latin Masses, believes there is “so much good going on in the Church right now.”

“We live in a culture that's ailing,” said Sullivan, 57.

“The Church is here to heal it, not to accommodate the disease.” She said on issues like abortion, “the Church is right to hold firm.”


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