Buona sera Francis, Argentina's first Pope
A puff of white smoke in the early evening announced that the Vatican had filled their vacancy after five ballots of cardinals. The successful candidate was the Argentinian bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who now becomes the first Pope Francis.
His choice of name was significant, particularly in Italy. The saint’s name suggests the new Pope wants to appeal to the common people, be a Pontiff of humility and simplicity, to communicate with the masses.
He started his pontificate with a cheery "buona sera" to the crowd in St Peter’s Square, before cracking a mild gag about the cardinals’ search for a Pope: "It seems that they went almost to the end of the world to find him. But we're here."
Those Catholics hoping that Pope Francis will usher in a new carefree era of liberalism will be disappointed. Unsurprisingly, the new Pope holds conservative views on issues like women priests and abortion.
The immediate talking point in some circles was Bergoglio’s role during Argentina’s military junta between 1976 and 1983. The church had backed the dictatorship and told Argentinians to be patriotic. Contested claims allege that the bishop had been complicit in the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests who had worked with the poor. One Argentinian priest, Eduardo de la Serna, told Argentinian radio: "Bergoglio is a man of power and he knows how to position himself among powerful people. I still have many doubts about his role regarding the Jesuits who went missing under the dictatorship." In 2000 the church apologised for "everything we have done badly," in supporting the junta.
Francis’s first tasks will be clearing up the complicated bureaucracy of the Vatican and taking a firm lead on the issue of sexual abuse that is causing such damage to the church. From now he devotes the rest of his life to leading the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. Or at least, if he follows his predecessor’s example, until he decides to say ciao.