BAYHAM: White Smoke Heralds A New World Pope

The Holy Spirit worked faster than expected, as many Vatican observers didn’t believe a decision would be reached by the College of Cardinals until Friday.

Just about an hour after the conclusion of the fifth and deciding ballot, Cardinal Deacon Jean-Louis Tauran announced haemus papam and introduced Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new pope – signaling not only the continuation of the chain of Christian religious leadership anchored by Saint Peter but also a move to further cultivate the church in Latin America and in other developing lands.

Bergoglio is a mixture of the Old World as the son of Italian immigrants and the New World when he became the first pope elected from the western hemisphere, that half of world that had been claimed for Christ by missionaries, explorers and colonizers hailing from countries where the faith is now withering.

Though a Jesuit, Bergoglio is considered a conservative not likely to significantly depart from the traditionalist doctrine closely identified with his two predecessors. The new pope is not a proponent of liberation theology.

A cardinal known for eschewing the trappings of luxury and riding public transit around Buenos Aires, the new Holy Father will have to accept being shuttled in a Mercedes-Benz built “popemobile” for safety reasons.

One of the big questions about Bergoglio is whether his election is in essence a “punt” by the cardinals, when considering the new pope’s advanced age. At 76, Francis I is only two years younger than Benedict XVI was at the time of his installation.

In contrast, John Paul II was 58 when he became pope.

Were the “princes of the church” intentionally delaying the selection of someone younger for a later day by choosing another care-taker pontiff?

In his first public moments as leader of the world’s Roman Catholics, Francis exhibited warmness by joking about being plucked from “the end of the earth” to become Bishop of Rome and demonstrated humility asking the faithful to offer prayers for the man he succeeded and himself.

While most Catholics (including this one) aren’t very familiar with the new pope, we should have confidence in that at least two-thirds of his colleagues considered the Argentine cardinal a worthy successor to Saint Peter’s chair.

A Truly Catholic Crowd

Though the word catholic is usually identified with the proper name of the religion it also means universal, which would be good description of the large crowd of people before Saint Peter’s Basilica.

While awaiting word of the new pope, pilgrims waved the flag of their homelands, including visitors from the new pope’s Argentina, Uganda, Cuba, the United States, Romania, Ukraine, Poland, South Korea and even Denmark, which isn’t considered a Catholic country.

One of the “people” strengths of the Church of Rome is its presence across the world. Though I have been out of the country a number of times, I have with only one exception always been able to find a Catholic church within walking distance of where I was staying.

The diverse smiling faces seen on television screens prior to Francis I’s visit to the balcony are the legacies of countless priests, nuns and lay people who over the centuries risked their lives to spread the Lord’s message to all corners of the globe.

CBS’ Busted Papal Coverage

With tens of thousands of the faithful packed in Piazza San Pietro awaiting the identity of the new pope, the CBS News team covering the announcement saw fit to feature a pair of feminist activists wearing bright pink “Ordain Women” buttons to talk about how they believe the Roman Catholic Church needs to end its opposition to birth control and allow females to become priests.

Funny how CBS tried to balance their coverage by seeking out individuals who were in no way representative of the throngs gathered within Bernini’s colonnade to take issue with the Roman Catholic Church’s long-standing positions.

I wonder how many “birthers” CBS interviewed near Capitol Hill during President Obama’s second inauguration.

And What Does Saint Malachy Have to Say About the New Pope?

A discussion about the new Holy Father cannot conclude without at least referencing the alleged prophecies of Saint Malachy, an Irish archbishop in the 12th century. The legend goes that while traveling to Rome, Malachy experienced visions that provided vague descriptions of the church’s future popes.

According to the “Malachy Count”, the new pope was supposed to be the last, Petrus Romanus, who would lead the church during the tribulations.

I’m sure more than a few of my fellow superstitious Catholics breathed a sigh of relief when it was announced that the new pope had taken the name Francis.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, consider that of the esteemed Archbishop Philip Hannan. While driving “the Arch” around New Orleans in the aftermath if Hurricane Katrina, I asked him about the Malachy prophecies. Hannan dismissed them as a 16th century forgery intended to help the papal candidacy of a 16th century cardinal.

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