Habemus papam

Rome | 13 March 2013

Following Benedict XVI’s groundbreaking resignation, the archbishop of Buenos Aires was elected the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church and immediately began to put his mark on the office.

Francis appears on the balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica for the first time as pope.
Francis appears on the balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica for the first time as pope.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, elected bishop of Rome and therefore leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, is a man of firsts. He is the first pope from the Americas, and the first non-European pope in nearly 1,300 years. He is the first to succeed a resigning pope, Benedict XVI, since Martin V succeeded Gregory XII after the latter’s resignation in 1415. He is the first Jesuit pope. He is the first pontiff elected during Fiona’s lifetime. And he is the first to take on his chosen papal name: Francis. [Note 1]

White smoke rises from a chimney over the Sistine Chapel at 19.06 Rome time on 13 March, indicating to those gathered in Saint Peter’s Square and to the world that a new pope had been chosen. (Photo by Catholic Church England and Wales via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The white smoke rising from a chimney over the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican at 19.06 Rome time on 13 March indicated to the thousands gathered in Saint Peter’s Square that the papal conclave had chosen a new pope. Francis immediately began to set the tone for his papacy, one of humility and simplicity, and less formality than those of his predecessors on the throne of Saint Peter. Indeed, he shunned the papal throne while accepting the conclave cardinals’ congratulations following his election, receiving them while standing.

He endeared himself to Catholics and nonbelievers alike when, after his election, he took the bus back to the Domus Sanctæ Marthæ (Saint Martha’s House)—the Vatican guest house, where the cardinals stayed during the conclave—with the other cardinals, rather than being driven in the papal car. At the guest house he insisted on paying the bill for his room. He has now chosen to live in the Domus Sanctæ Marthæ, rather than the official papal residence in the Apostolic Palace.

His ministry throughout his life has been marked by humility and a commitment to serving the poor. Francis, elected pope at age 76, was born 17 December 1936 in Buenos Aires. Though Francis is considered the first non-European pope since Gregory III, who reigned from 731 to 741, his father was an Italian immigrant while his mother was born in Argentina of Italian parents. Prior to his selection as the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, he served as archbishop of Buenos Aires. He was named a cardinal on 21 February 2001 by John Paul II. As an Argentinian, he speaks Spanish natively, but he is also conversant in Latin, Italian, German, French, Portuguese, English, Ukrainian, and Piedmontese.

Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, surprised the world when on 11 February he announced his resignation, effective 28 February. Prior to his election as pontiff, Benedict had served as prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which defends—and shapes—Catholic doctrine. The question of whether a pope could resign his office had swirled around the Catholic Church for several years, particularly toward the end of the papacy of Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, whose declining health caused many to wonder whether he could continue to fulfill his demanding duties. When his own health began to deteriorate, Benedict chose to affirm by example that, yes, a pope can resign. He is now the pope emeritus.

Pope Francis’s coat of arms. (Image via Wikipedia)

Following Benedict’s resignation, the College of Cardinals gathered in Rome for the papal conclave. The word “conclave” comes from the Latin cum clave, meaning “with a key,” a reference to the idea that the cardinals are to be locked in a room until they choose a new pope. While the cardinals are no longer locked in a room until they make their choice, they are to be secluded from the world: the Domus Sanctæ Marthæ disconnected television, internet, and phone access during their stay. A total of 115 cardinals gathered for the conclave, which commenced 12 March. Since 1970, cardinals must be younger than 80 to be eligible to participate. The voting is by secret ballot: each cardinal writes his choice on a piece of paper, disguising his handwriting, folds it into fourths, and drops it into a chalice. After the votes are read and tallied, they are burned with a powder intended to turn the smoke black, meaning no person has yet received the two-thirds majority needed to become pope, or white, indicating that a pope has been elected. While any baptized Catholic male may become pope, since 1389 the members of the conclave have always elected a fellow cardinal. Speculation as to who would be chosen was rife: online betting sites were even accepting wagers on which of the papabili (an Italian word for those cardinals most likely to be elected pope; it roughly translates to “pope-able” in English) would be elected, with many betting on a non-European pontiff. After five rounds of voting, Francis was chosen. (No word on how much was won or lost in wagers.)

After his election, many news outlets referred to the new pope as Francis I. But Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi clarified that the new pontiff would be called simply Pope Francis: “It will become Francis I after we have a Francis II,” he said.

First Presidency statement

The First Presidency offered this statement following Francis’s election.

On behalf of the leadership and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we extend our warmest wishes to His Holiness Pope Francis and pray he will feel the peace of the Lord as he serves as pontiff of the Catholic Church.

We have been honored and pleased as our two faiths have worked together on issues of faith, morality and service to the poor and needy. We value the relationships that have been formed in these joint efforts and are grateful for the good that has been accomplished.

We look forward to pursuing together, as the Apostle Paul wrote, all things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report (see Philippians 4:8).


  1. According to Wikipedia, it is, in fact, the “first time since Pope Lando’s 913–914 reign that a serving pope held a name not used by a predecessor.”


This article appeared on pages 14–15 of Issue 10 | April 2013.

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