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March 13th, 2013

New Pope is First Ever From South America


Not since Columbus sailed to the New World has the Catholic Church had a pope who was not from Europe. On Wednesday, the cardinals elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina to lead the Church, reflecting the fact that a majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics live in the global South.

White smoke billows from the chimney of the Sistene Chapel in Vatican City, indicating the cardinals have selected a new pope.

2013 has been a year of firsts for the Catholic Church. First, Pope Benedict XVI announced last month that he would step down, which hasn’t happened in 600 years.

Then the cardinals elected Cardinal Bergoglio, who is not only the first from South America, but he is also the first Jesuit pope. Jesuits are a unique order within the Catholic Church known for their work in education. Several universities, such as Georgetown and Loyola are Jesuit, as are many Catholic high schools in the United States.

Latin Americans overjoyed by choice

“It’s a huge gift for all of Latin America. We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait,” Franciscan friar Jose Antonio Cruz told the Associated Press in Puerto Rico. “Everyone from Canada down to Patagonia is going to feel blessed. This is an event.”

“It’s incredible!” Martha Ruiz, age 60, told the AP in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. Argentines who know the new pope say he is a humble man who takes the bus, loves his local soccer team and cooks his own dinner.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama congratulated the new pope. President Obama said the selection of the first pope from the Americas “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.”

Argentine Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio speaks during a mass for Ash Wednesday, opening Lent, the forty-day period of abstinence and deprivation for Christians, before the Holy Week and Easter, on February 13, 2013.


The cardinal becomes the pope

When a cardinal becomes a pope, he chooses a new name. Cardinal Bergoglio settled on Francis after St. Francis of Assisi, another first for the Church.

Vatican reporter John Allen said the fact that he chose Francis is a “most stunning” choice and “precedent shattering,” because St. Francis is seen as such a unique and important figure in Catholicism.

St. Francis of Assisi lived in the 1200s and became famous for his work with the sick and the poor, as well as his rejection of wealth and comfort.

Pope Francis will hold an installation Mass and then receive the Fisherman’s Ring. Each ring is made specifically for the new pope — Benedict took his off when he retired in February and it was purposely damaged by Vatican authorities per tradition. Pope Francis will also receive the pallium, the woolen cloth that’s a symbol of his authority.

A tough road ahead for the Catholic Church

The new pope faces a tough road. There is pressure to liberalize doctrine towards women in the priesthood and homosexuality, as well as questions about Vatican bank practices. The Church has also been dealing with a crisis regarding child sexual abuse by priests for decades.

But for now, Catholics around the world are welcoming their new leader. Over 100,000 gathered in St. Peter’s square to catch a glimpse of Francis.

After the white smoke that announced his election billowed up from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, Pope Francis appeared on the Vatican balcony.

“Let’s pray always for each other. Let’s pray for the whole world. May there be a great brotherhood,” he said in Italian.

Compiled by Leah Clapman for NewsHour Extra

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