Habemus Papam! We Have a Pope!
The faithful of Our Lady of Loretto Parish in Cold Spring were jubilant Wednesday afternoon with the announcement that a new Roman Pontiff, Francis I, age 76, had been elected to be the spiritual leader of the universal Catholic Church. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina was selected by the College of Cardinals who had been sequestered in Rome since Tuesday afternoon for the sole purpose of choosing the man to succeed Benedict XVI. The College of Cardinals came to an agreement on the Holy Father’s election after a total of four inconclusive votes earlier that day and on Tuesday. A two-thirds majority of the cardinals present (77 out of 115) were necessary for the election.
Pope Benedict XVI made history by resigning from office on Feb. 28 due to failing health and vitality, leaving the papacy vacant for 13 days. Wednesday was made even more historic by the election of the first Latin American Pope and the first Jesuit Pope.
Locally, friends gathered earlier on Wednesday afternoon at a house in Nelsonville to watch the proceedings from Rome on TV and to wait for the smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel that would indicate the outcome of the day’s voting. The anticipation and tension was palpable in the room as the time for the signal approached. “Isn’t it remarkable that the whole world is focusing on an ordinary copper smokestack awaiting the ancient sign of white smoke for the election of a new pope or black smoke for no decision?” Andrea Corless remarked. “In this age of technology, this brings us back to the simplicity and tradition of a time gone by.” Smoke began to waft from the chimney at 2:12 p.m. and the group began to shout, “Oh, no, it’s black!” at first - and then “It’s white! It’s white! We have a pope!”
The 10 pre-school children present joined the adults in the cheering and excitement of the moment. Shortly after 3 p.m. Pope Francis I appeared for the first time on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica and greeted the elated crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square. The Nelsonville gathering surely echoed the sentiments of Catholics all over the world. “I am so happy that the process is over and that the Cardinals came to their decision so quickly,” one young mother said. “I think that Pope Francis I is a good choice and a very holy and humble man.”
Meanwhile, at Our Lady of Loretto Church, Fr. Brian T. McSweeney pealed the church bells for 20 minutes and ordered that a white and yellow bunting be hung over the front doors of the church to celebrate the beginning of the pontificate of Pope Francis I. About 100 children arrived for their Religious Education classes at 3:30 p.m. and gathered in the church. “This is wonderful time in the life of the Church to be together on the day that a new pope has been elected,” Rob Garnsey, Coordinator of Faith Formation, announced to the students. Fr. McSweeney led the children in a prayer of thanksgiving for Francis I and all convened on the front steps of the church for a happy group photo.
Afterwards, Fr. McSweeney commented on the events of the day. “It was exciting to see the election of Francis I to be the successor to St. Peter to the glorious acclaim of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square,” he said. “This is historic that we have the first pope from the New World in our 2000 year history. It is certainly a time of grace and a time for celebration.”
In an official statement from Rome, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who has taken the name Francis I, marks a great milestone in our church. As successor to Peter, our first pope, Pope Francis I stands as the figure of unity for all Catholics wherever they reside. The bishops of the United States and the people of our 195 dioceses offer prayers for our new leader and promise allegiance to him. Intense prayer from all around the world surrounded the election of Pope Francis I. The bishops of the United States thank God for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the inspired choice of the College of Cardinals. With joy in our hearts, we declare “Ad Multos Annos!” (For many years!)”
Report from Wednesday evening:
A new pope has been selected and church bells rang throughout Putnam County on Wednesday afternoon, including Cold Spring, where the peal of the bells could be heard from Our Lady of Loretto church downtown. Local Catholics eagerly watched the selection process, and a delegation including Father Brian McSweeney, senior altar servers and parents visited Vatican City in recent weeks. It was a planned trip, but coincided with history in the making.
The ringing of church bells across Putnam County heralded the news Wednesday afternoon, that half a world away in the Vatican, a new pope had been named. Pope Francis is said to be known for simplicity and conservatism.
Pope Francis I will now lead the Catholic church. The news was greeted with joy by Catholics across the region.
The selection of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina is in many ways groundbreaking: A non-European and non-Italian, it provides an opening to the developing world, where Catholicism is growing. He also is the first Jesuit pope. Most of his career has been in Argentina.