White smoke has been seen above St. Peter’s Square, transforming Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina into Pope Francis I. He’s the first Jesuit pope, and apparently the first pope in a very long time to choose a papal name that hasn’t been used by any previous pontiff (unless you count Pope John Paul I, who strung two well-worn names together). Like many other Argentines, he comes from Italian stock, which may go some way towards smoothing any feathers that have been ruffled in Italy by the election of yet another foreigner to the papacy. At the same time, Latin America now has a pope to call its own.
I actually watched some of the BBC’s live coverage from Rome, and happened to catch the bit when Bergoglio was announced as the lucky winner and emerged shortly afterwards onto a balcony overlooking the huge crowd assembled in the square. I have to admit that I found the occasion impressive, and even somewhat moving. I’m not immune to the grandeur of traditions whose history stretches back to the waning days of the Roman Empire, or to the sheer joy that could be seen on some of the faces in the crowd. I’m sure that actually being surrounded by their fervour would have felt acutely uncomfortable, but watching the show from thousands of kilometres away was fine.