"We don't have a government, we don't have jobs, we don't have money, so let's hope that we at least get a Pope", an Italian said to me as we waited in the evening rain. Ten minutes later, white smoke emerged from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel: a Pope had been elected. [embedgallery id=121202]
The atmosphere on St. Peter's Square was filled with nervous and excited anticipation as we waited for a cardinal to reveal the new Pope's identity. The Lord did his part, too: the rain stopped. My Mexican neighbor this evening reflected on how one of the candidates had spent a decade in Latin America, so perhaps he'd be elected to reflect Latin America's preeminent role in Christianity today. He was so excited that he kissed his camera. Then the cardinal emerged and announced that Jorge Maria Bergoglio had been elected Pope and taken the name Francis. "It's the Argentinian", shouted my Italian neighbor for the evening. Jubilation broke out.
In fact, the atmosphere on St. Peter's Square was electric on this historic night. The crowd of many tens of thousands resembled a gathering of 20- and 30-somethings -- who said that young people people aren't interested in church?-- and everyone was remarkably polite despite their excitement. "The Pope is the Pope, so he doesn't matter who is elected", said one man to me as we waited.
But an Italian pope would have been greeted with cynicism. Pope Francis is an unexpected choice, and to judge from the reaction on St. Peter's Square, a welcome one. When he humbly asked the crowd to pray for him and bowed his head, everyone did. And when he asked the crowd to pray the Lord's Prayer with him, the crowd once again obliged. Saint Francis was a humble saint, and the man who's now the most powerful man in world Christianity showed moving humility on this night.
Why did so many people happily participate in an election in which they have no say? Perhaps because they care about the Church. Perhaps because a papal election, staged in front of the mighty St. Peter's Basilica, is fascinating theater. Perhaps because in uncertain times, when politicians repeatedly fail to make crucial decisions, you can count on the Roman Catholic Church to elect a new head in an expeditious fashion. The Vatican even had a Habemus Papam-tweet ready to go out the moment the words were spoken.
Or perhaps for all those reasons, as Pope Francis in his Spanish-flavored Italian wished the crowd a good night and returned inside the Vatican, the immense crowd filed out in an orderly manner. Not even the nuns pushed.