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Pope Francis: Thousands pack square to greet the new pope

The initial reaction to hearing the name Jorge Mario Bergoglio is, 'Who?' But before long, Pope Francis proves he can connect with the masses.

March 13, 2013|By Tom Kington, Los Angeles Times
  • The faithful gather in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. After the new pope was announced, chants of "Francesco! Francesco!" rang out in the rain-swept piazza.
The faithful gather in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. After the… (Jeff J. Mitchell / Getty…)

VATICAN CITY — Andrea Quintarelli had rushed to St. Peter's Square with his sister Wednesday the moment he heard that the papal conclave had made a selection.

Despite describing himself as "not a churchgoer," the 21-year-old felt that as a proud resident of Rome he had to join the thousands gathered to see the new pope the moment he emerged.

"This is a once in a lifetime, emotional moment," he said. "Romans have a special relationship with the pope and I will never forget how John Paul II used Roman dialect."

Quintarelli, like others who watched as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio appeared as Pope Francis, said the initial reaction to his introduction was kind of quiet, the crowd a little hesitant, other than a lot of people saying, "Who?" But it was not long, Quintarelli said, before Pope Francis showed he knew something about connecting with the masses.

"You know that it was the duty of the conclave to give Rome a bishop," the pope said, referring to the tradition that the pope is also Rome's bishop. "It seems that my brother cardinals have gone to the ends of the Earth to get one."

That brought cheers from the faithful, and soon chants of "Francesco! Francesco!" were ringing round the rain-swept piazza.

The initial moment of confusion after Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran had stepped onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica to announce "Habemus papam," and state Bergoglio's papal name in Latin, turned into a hubbub of conversation as locals, tourists, pilgrims and priests swapped notes on the Argentine, trying to Google him on their smartphones.

"Is he old, mamma?" said one man speaking on his phone. "From his name he sounds like he's got Italian origins."

Then the new pope said he would like to bless the crowd, but that first he wanted everyone in St. Peter's to pray for him.

"That made us feel important," said Federica Quintarelli, Andrea's sister.

"He felt very close to us," said Andrea Quintarelli.

Several people said the gesture showed humility and that perhaps the faithful can expect a humble papacy.

Speaking after the event, Vatican spokesman Father Tom Rosica noted that the pope had veered from the formal script for the greeting.

"It was like a dialogue with the people there," Rosica said.

Argentines in the square had no hesitation about going wild, gathering together around a woman clutching their national flag and chanting, "Argentina, Argentina," for TV crews.

"I am so excited I cannot believe it," said Ariadna Cabello Rendace, 27, an Argentine studying in Italy. "This is an incredible day for us."

Elsewhere, Romanian, Spanish and other flags were being waved.

"I want to show Mexico is here," said Jose Manuel Suazo, who was draped in a Mexican flag. "I am also keeping warm and dry with the flag."

As in 2005, when Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope and became Pope Benedict XVI, locals had descended on St. Peter's to see the new pontiff, and on Wednesday joined in as an Italian police band struck up the Italian national anthem before the new pope appeared.

When the white smoke appeared from the Sistine Chapel to indicate that a new pope had been selected, church bells rang throughout Rome, alerting Laura Rossi, a civil servant, who was at home in a suburb of the city.

"I got in the car, drove into town, parked and ran the last stretch, just as I did in 2005 for Benedict," she said. "The pope is our bishop and we feel close to him when he arrives and when he dies."

Stefano Solinas, 58, a lawyer, said he was happiest that the deliberations by the 115 cardinals selecting the pope, which began Tuesday, were over and done with quickly. "The fact the voting didn't drag on means the church is still governed by Christ," he said as the crowds headed home from the piazza.

Kington is a special correspondent.

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