VATICAN CITY -- Before a crowd that had cheered, cried and roared as white smoke poured from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, the first pope from the Western Hemisphere took the name of the world's most beloved saint Wednesday night as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina became Pope Francis.
"Holy smoke!" the Rev. Michael Sedor, a newly ordained Pittsburgh priest, shouted as the white clouds billowed in the dark square, where thousands had shivered in the cold rain all day. Soon after France's Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran announced his name, the crowd began chanting "Francesco! Francesco!"
Inside, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York would reveal later, the new pope had asked Vatican personnel still waiting to greet him if he could do that later so the crowd wouldn't have to wait in the cold any longer.
Argentine cardinal elected new pope
Argentine Jorge Bergoglio has been elected pope, the first ever from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium. He chose the name Pope Francis. (3/13/2013)
Pope Francis, 76, is the first of that name and the first Jesuit to be elected leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
In Buenos Aires, he is famous for having given up the archbishop's mansion for a humble apartment and riding the bus to work. Though many people expressed surprise at his election, many unofficial accounts say that Cardinal Bergoglio had been the runner-up to German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 conclave.
Speaking in clear Italian, Pope Francis soon brought the crowd to laughter with a joke about the cardinals having gone almost to the ends of the earth to find a bishop for Rome. But when the new pope asked the faithful to pray for him, as a benediction for him before he gave them his blessing, the crowd of at least 100,000 became instantly silent.
Megan Donley of Point Breeze, who is studying canon law in Rome, was overjoyed.
"It's a great day for the church," she said. "I know nothing about him except that he chose a wonderful name. And I was so moved when he said that in a minute he would give us a benediction, but that our prayers coming up to him were a benediction for him."
Earlier in the day, when the crowd was waiting for smoke, a seagull had brought great laughter to the square when it perched atop the famous chimney. Given St. Francis' well-known love for birds -- to whom he sometimes preached -- some Italians in the square asked after the new pope appeared if the seagull was a portent.
It may not have been, but a cold rain that had made the crowd miserable all day stopped shortly after the white smoke rose from the chimney at the Sistine Chapel.
Father Sedor, who is finishing his studies in Rome, was moved by the pope's choice for a name.
"St. Francis was really a man of such humility and poverty," Father Sedor said. "So in taking the name Francis I think he's speaking against the excesses that we have in life that distract us from God. We cling too closely to money and fame and pride, all those things that Francis gave up. I think Pope Francis is trying to remind us of what's important."
There have been a number of saints with the name Francis, but the first and the only one whose name requires no further identification was Francis of Assisi. Cardinal Dolan confirmed that the new pope took his name to honor that Francis, not the Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier.
Though modern people sometimes think of Francis primarily as a lover of animals, he was first and foremost a great evangelist who brought renewal to a medieval church that had lost touch with the common people and become corrupt and uninspiring. He was a wealthy young man who gave up all of his possessions in a desire to completely follow Jesus. He lived as a beggar, using the great communication methods of his day as he sang and told stories in public squares.
Pope Francis quickly showed a style in keeping with his namesake, Cardinal Dolan said, when he refused a seat on a raised dais and stood to meet the cardinals as they pledged their obedience.
Later, although a papal motorcade was waiting for him, he boarded the last of the mini-buses to the residence where the cardinals stayed during the conclave, and remarked that he would have to settle up the bill at the residence for priests that he had occupied before the conclave started on Tuesday.
"He has already won our hearts," Cardinal Dolan said.
At a dinner with all the cardinals shortly after his election, he toasted them with the quip, "May God forgive you."
"It brought down the house," Cardinal Dolan said.
According to Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., a former Pittsburgh bishop, the cardinals chose Cardinal Bergoglio "because every one of us is called to a relationship with God and we were looking for someone whose life says that."
Cardinal Wuerl has worked with him on committees at two synods, but also spent a lot of time asking other cardinals about him during the pre-conclave meetings. In those meetings he impressed many of them with a brief address on the need for the church to stay focused on its spiritual message.
"And he always, always, has a preferential option for the poor. He doesn't speak very long before he gets to that," Cardinal Wuerl said.
"He is by all accounts a very gentle but firm, a very loving but fearless, a very pastoral and caring person, ideal for the challenges of today."
When they worked together on committees "you don't have to try to figure out where he stands. When you are having a conversation about issues he just lets you know that 'This is what I think on this point' or 'I think we see things differently.' But done with great gentility," Cardinal Wuerl said.
Under Pope Francis, "I think we are going to see a call to gospel simplicity. I think we are going to see a call to faithfulness to the rigorous demands of the gospel," he said, noting that many of the church's messages about sexual morality and the value of human life are counter-cultural and unpopular.
"St. Francis of Assisi is the saint who tried to live literally the demands of the gospel ... with complete and total trust in God. I think that is what Pope Francis will call us to do."
Pope Francis has a great missionary sensibility, said the Rev. Andrew Small, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies of the United States.
"We have the evangelical pope that everybody has been calling for," he said.
Father Small met with Cardinal Bergoglio in 2010 and was struck by his humility. "He was careful, respectful, almost bordering on apologetic," he said.
Argentina's bishops are men of different outlooks, he said, and they elected him as their president. "He is a symbol of unity, which is what we need now," he said.
The successful campaign for same-sex marriage in Argentina had an edge to it that was clearly intended to break the influence of the church, Father Small said.
Cardinal Bergoglio firmly defended church teaching that marriage is intended to be between a man and a woman, but did it in a way that didn't alienate people, he said.
"The church lost the battle, but it didn't lose its credibility," Father Small said. "I think what he teaches us is that when you become removed from the people, the church loses its soul. What they've done here is they've voted for the soul to be put back into the church, which is the people of God."
When Pope Francis emerged on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, Father Small believed he was wearing his own, simple cross.
"There were no jewels. It was a simple, silver cross. I would be surprised if the trappings of a medieval court are ever seen again. He wouldn't know himself in them."
Among the Pittsburghers who have met Pope Francis is Rabbi Alvin Berkun, rabbi emeritus of Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill, a longtime Jewish representative in dialogues with the Vatican. A number of years ago that dialogue group met in Buenos Aires.
While many Latin American bishops have never adapted to the post-Vatican II understanding that Jews are the "elder brothers" of Christians, "the new pope is the exception to that rule," Rabbi Berkun said. "He has had excellent relationships with the Argentine Jewish community throughout his tenure."
His cathedral, Rabbi Berkun said, is home to the only Holocaust memorial in Buenos Aires. Under his leadership, the Catholic and Jewish communities worked together to help people who were in dire straits during a severe economic crisis in Argentina.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests expressed cautious hope for the new pontificate, saying that Cardinal Bergoglio had handled a case in his archdiocese well. They noted that he is from a religious order, and said that religious orders have a worse track record than bishops on responding to complaints of sex abuse.
"We're struck by how this new pope, coming from a religious order, has both an enormous opportunity and duty to help prevent heinous assaults against kids by this crucial and relatively secretive segment of the Catholic clergy," said David Clohessy, the executive director of SNAP.
"We are grateful he doesn't work in the Vatican and isn't a member of the Curia.
"We hope that will give him the courage to shake things up and put the prevention of abuse and cover up first on his priority list."
On his first day as pope he intends to go visit Benedict XVI, emeritus pope, and also pray before the icon of Mary Help of the People of Rome, showing his devotion to the new diocese that entitles him to the office of pope.
As the cardinals returned from the conclave, Cardinal Dolan said, "There is a sense of relief on all of us and a sense of peace and serenity. ... Jesus is taking care of his church."
At the end of their dinner together, "Pope Francis said to us tonight, 'I'm going to sleep well. And something tells me you will, too.' "world
Ann Rodgers: email@example.com or 412-263-1416. First Published March 14, 2013 4:00 AM