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Pope Francis known as champion of poor

Paterno Esmaquel II
(4th UPDATE) Known to live a simple life, Argentina's Jose Mario Bergoglio is the first South American pope in history

HISTORIC POPE. Jorge Mario Bergoglio takes on the name Francis I. Photo from AFP

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – He is a pope of firsts: the first Latin American, the first Jesuit, and the first to use the name Francis, which is associated with a 12th-century saint who lived a life of poverty.

Pope Francis – or Jorge Mario Bergoglio, former archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina – on Thursday, March 14 (Philippine time), began leading a Catholic Church that faces calls for transparency, simplicity, and greater attention to developing countries.

At the balcony of the St Peter’s Basilica, the new pope addressed the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics around 3:12 am on Thursday (Philippine time), ending an over 24-hour wait for a successor of Benedict XVI.

'BLESS ME.' In an unexpected move, Pope Francis I asks the crowd to do him a 'favor.' Photo from AFP

In his speech, Pope Francis made an unexpected move when he, while now called the Vicar of Christ, begged the crowd’s indulgence.

“And now I would like to give the blessing, but first I want to ask you a favor,” said Pope Francis, who surprised Catholics with marks of humility, beginning with his choice of name.

He said: “Before the Bishop blesses the people, I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me – the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer – your prayer for me – in silence.” (Watch his full speech below.)

“And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood,” Pope Francis said. 

He also prayed for his predecessor, Benedict XVI. Incidentally, Pope Francis was a runner-up in the 2005 conclave that elected Benedict.

Pope Francis’ election answers the clamor for a Third World pope, which various sectors expressed right after Benedict quit the papacy. In an interview with Rappler, an American nun said such a pope will give hope to the Catholic Church.

“A Eurocentric papacy threatens the Church because the Church has moved on. We are a global Church,” said the East Asian Pastoral Institute’s Sr Clare Lentz.

‘Precedent-shattering’

Pope Francis is a humble rail worker’s son who became a Jesuit priest and who is seen as true to his working-class roots. 

At 76, Latin America’s first pope still has a reputation as an ascetic despite his archbishop’s robes. He rides clattering city buses, makes his own meals, and is famously accessible.

Bergoglio’s choice of the papal name Francis, also a first, was seen as a highly non-traditional choice as it honors a saint known for stressing humility.

PRO-POOR. Pope Francis I has working-class roots. File photo from AFP

The name is in line with his reputation, and he is seen in Argentina as ideologically mainstream, while his Society of Jesus is regarded as being among the most progressive Church institutions, especially in education. (Read: Pope rides the bus, makes own meals.)

In an interview with CNN, veteran Vatican watcher John Allen described his name as “most stunning” and “precedent-shattering.”

Allen told CNN the name Francis “poverty, humility, simplicity, and rebuilding the Catholic Church.” “The new pope is sending a signal that this will not be business as usual,” he explained.

His name is significant for another reason. The Pope has the name of a founder of the Jesuit order, St Francis Xavier, patron saint of missionaries. 

Xavier became a saint on March 12, 1622. The conclave that elected Pope Francis began on March 12, 2013.

‘Habemus papam’

Tens of thousands of pilgrims in St Peter’s Square cheered and the bells of St Peter’s Basilica rang out after the 115 cardinals meeting in a Vatican conclave signalled their momentous decision.

The crowd chanted “Habemus Papam!” (“We Have a Pope!”) as they waited, waving flags from around the world.

'HABEMUS PAPAM.' Cardinals elect Pope Francis in over 24 hours. Screen grab from youtube.com/vatican

Cardinals had been locked up behind the Vatican walls and cut off from the outside world since Tuesday, March 12, meeting in a sublime Renaissance chapel swept for recording devices and installed with scramblers to prevent any communication.

The smoke from the chimney was produced by burning the ballots and setting off smoke flares in two stoves specially installed in a corner of the chapel. The decision came after 5 votes – longer than for Benedict’s succession to late pope John Paul II in 2005 which was decided in just 4 votes. (Read: Habemus papam: There is a new pope.)

Read Pope Francis’ first speech below.

Brothers and sisters good evening. 

You all know that the duty of the conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother cardinals have come almost to the ends of the earth to get him… but here we are. I thank you for the welcome that has come from the diocesan community of Rome.

First of all I would say a prayer for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI. Let us all pray together for him, that the Lord bless him and Our Lady protect him.

(Our Father…)

(Hail Mary…)

(Glory to the Father…)

And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood . My hope is that this journey of the Church that we begin today, together with the help of my cardinal vicar, be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city.

And now I would like to give the blessing, but first I want to ask you a favor. Before the bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me – the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer – your prayer for me – in silence. 

I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.

Brothers and sisters, I am leaving you. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me and I will be with you again soon.

We will see one another soon. 

Tomorrow I want to go to pray to the Madonna, that she may protect Rome.

Good night and sleep well!

– with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.