By FOX News Radio’s Simon Owen in Rome
It was dark, cold and wet, and many of the people in St. Peter’s Square had been there for hours.
But the crowd wasn’t to be put off. The time window for news from the papal conclave, underway yards from the square, was open, so the wait went on for smoke signals: possibly the world’s most old-fashioned method of announcing a high-profile election result.
The previous evening’s “smoke watch” had ended, as expected, with black smoke, indicating a Pope hadn’t been chosen after the first ballot, and the same thing had happened on the morning of day two.
This third blast was to be different.
Against the black sky, there it was: smoke.
But was it white, telling the world a Pope had been selected, or was it black again?
For a few seconds, the crowd was split. Nuns and pilgrims and locals and tourists couldn’t decide. There were shouts either way.
But quickly, perhaps as the chapel’s chimney cleaned itself, it became clear that this smoke was very much white after all. Out it poured, up went the cheers, and people ran to St. Peter’s Square to catch a glimpse of the smoke, then soak up the tension as the wait ensued before the new pontiff’s identity was revealed.
In the end, it took around an hour and 15 minutes for the man known up until that moment as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, to step out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, and for his new name to be announced: Pope Francis.
The Pope stood there as the crowd cheered. He waved. There was almost a smile. He seemed a little stunned: perhaps to be expected (the room where he’d just been preparing for his debut is known as the Room of Tears, apparently because of the emotion new Popes feel as the reality of their new job sinks in). But quickly he appeared comfortable: a manner which was to repeatedly catch the eye over his first few days as Pope.
He was already breaking with tradition, asking the crowd to bless him before he blessed them, and we later learned that as Cardinals paid their respects following his election, Pope Francis decided against standing on a platform, as new Popes normally do.
And after leaving the crowd, which then slowly and happily milled away (it had, by the way, finally stopped raining), New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan later revealed that the Pope had then refused his papal limousine, instead travelling back to the guesthouse where the Cardinals had been staying on a bus, with the rest of the group.
The humility we’re told Archbishop Bergoglio was known for in his native Argentina was now on show here as well. Vatican officials confirmed the next day that the Pope had returned to his church-run Rome hotel the following morning, and despite now being the Head of the Church, and therefore essentially in charge of the hotel, he insisted on paying his bill: he wanted to set a good example to priests and bishops, the Vatican said.
And by the end of the week the Vatican’s spokesmen were almost falling over themselves telling stories of Francis’ nontraditional ways. He gave the homily at his first Mass in Italian, without notes, instead of reading a sermon in Latin. There were also reports he simply left the Vatican briefly on his first night as Pope, although it’s not clear where he went.
With the Roman Catholic Church facing a series of crises, from sex abuse scandals to infighting at the Vatican, Pope Francis is taking on a monumental task.
On a smaller scale, it looks like his minders will be kept on their toes as well.
LISTEN to some of FOX News Radio’s Simon Owen’s reports from Rome: