As soon as the white smoke rose from the special chimney atop the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday, March 13, the crowds swelled in historic St. Peter’s Square as the bells rang loudly.
Thousands and thousands of people waited – Italians and visitors to Italy – a sea of people gathered to find out who had been elected the 266th Successor of St. Peter by the conclave of cardinals.
Excitement grew and there was a hushed silence as the newly elected pontiff’s name was read aloud: Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina.
Pope Francis I is first pope from outside of Europe in almost 1,300 years and the first-ever pope elected from the Americas. Additionally, the fact Pope Francis I is the first Jesuit priest elected to run the church for the world’s 1.2 billion Christians in the Roman Catholic tradition had the media – secular and Catholic – abuzz. Nobody expected a Jesuit to be elected.
What’s a Jesuit?
Catholics understand who the Jesuits are and what the Society of Jesus, their religious order’s full name, is all about. For non-Catholics who haven’t already Googled to find out: A priest with the Society of Jesus, called a Jesuit, belongs to an order founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola. The Jesuits are known for their dedicated focus on education, charity, and evangelization and were believed to be a true force behind the Counter-Reformation, or defending the faith during the Reformation.
There has been some controversy around the Jesuit order, either esteemed as educated by liberal Catholics or feared as free-thinking renegades by conservatives. For this reason the election of a Jesuit for pope came as a surprise to many.
The significance of Francis
Catholics immediately seized upon the name chosen by the new pope. The Vatican has confirmed that the new pope chose his name in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi, Italy’s beloved Franciscan saint who gave up riches to follow Jesus and preach of peace, not Saint Francis Xavier, a founding member of the Society of Jesus. St. Francis of Assisi, whose peace prayer and living a life of poverty in service to the poor is so well known, is patron saint of Italy and animals.
The choice of Francis for his papacy implies that the new Holy Father will be leading as a humble servant, focused on peace, the plight of the poor, love of neighbour and the world, and evangelization. Pope Francis I started his pontificate in just this way, asking first for the blessing of the people gathered before him before he offered the traditional blessing as the new leader of the church.
Humble Cardinal to Pope
As Argentina and all of Latin America celebrates, the world is learning more about the life of Pope Francis I. The former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, is by all accounts a humble man who is dedicated to the poor, himself the son of a railway worker and a housewife.
The 76-year-old has eschewed restaurants to cook for himself or join the less fortunate in soup kitchens, chosen to walk or take public transit rather than a private car, and has been outspoken on social justice issues.
Viva il Papa! Long live the Pope!
The excited cheers of the crowds in St. Peter’s Square that met the first appearance of Pope Francis I will not be the last. Easter in Italy will be very busy this year, with everyone (especially Argentinians and others from Latin America!) wanting to come to Rome for Holy Week officiated by the newly elected Pope Francis I. Nothing compares to the vibrant joy of tens of thousands of people gathered to celebrate in St. Peter’s Square, against the backdrop of the eternal city of Rome.
If you’d like to enjoy an intimate, unrushed, small group tour (maximum 12 people) of the Vatican museum and Sistine chapel, get more information here. If you’d like to explore Rome as well, read about our tour here. Avventure Bellissime’s English-speaking and art-graduated guides will certainly live up to your expectations.
If you want to read about what others thought of our tours, read their reviews here.