At noon MT on Tuesday, March 13, white smoke poured out of the Sistine Chapel, signaling that the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church had elected their 266th Pope: Pope Francis.
The excitement of the throng of people crammed into St. Peter’s Square was almost tangible as all eyes stared at the balcony, waiting in anticipation for the new pope to reveal himself.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio is a 76-year-old Argentine and is a pope of firsts. He is the first non-European pope of the modern era, the first from Latin America, the first Jesuit and the first to assume the name Francis.
According to CNN, the cardinals were originally seeking a vivacious pope who was in his 60s who could lead the Catholic Church for years. By choosing Pope Francis, the cardinals elected an experienced, popular and often-described humble man who would bring people to the Catholic Church.
Bergoglio chose the name Francis, drawing connections to the humble 13th-century saint. St. Francis is viewed as a reformer of the Catholic Church, answering God’s call to “repair my church in ruins,” according to CNN.
Pope Francis did not follow tradition as he was announced on the balcony. He asked the crowd to pray for him before he blessed them.
“Let us say this prayer, your prayer for me, in silence,” he told the cheering crowd.
One of Francis’ first phone calls as pope was to his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The Vatican later announced that an installation Mass, traditionally attended by VIPs and faithfuls from the pope’s home country, would be held on March 19, according to CBS News.
Moments after Pope Francis I was named, the official Twitter account for the pope tweeted: “Habemus Papam Franciscum” — We have Pope Francis. It was retweeted more than 55,000 times in less than two hours, according to USA Today.
Christine Cramer, from Baltimore, is a graduate student in the marriage, family and human development program. She, being Catholic, was thrilled to hear the new pope was of Argentine descent, as she feels a pope from a Latin American country will better represent the face of the Catholic Church in this time.
“Francis seems like a kind gentlemen with kind eyes, and hopefully he will continue the New Evangelization that Pope John Paul II started,” she said.
The day marked history for Catholic students at BYU, and Latter-day Saints shared in their excitement.
Brittany Bruner, an LDS English major from Provo, appreciates the inspiration the pope brings to the Catholic Church as he leads them toward Christ.
“I like following news about the pope because it is interesting to see how other people practice religion, come to Jesus Christ, and revere their leaders. The new pope, Jorge Bergoglio, is inspiring the members of his church to come to Jesus Christ, which is a great thing,” she said.
Conner Peloquin, a Catholic pre-business major from Gig Harbor, Wash., believes the news about the pope isn’t specifically for the Catholic Church, but for all religions.
“The election of a new pope is incredibly big news, and I think it’s important for people to be aware regardless of religious affiliation. Furthermore, the pope has the potential to really influence the entire world, and not just the Catholic Church,” he said.
Peloquin feels that because the Catholic Church is so international, there must be a leader to unite different ideas and philosophies that arise.
“It is essential to have a leader of authority to guide us and carry on the traditions that we have practiced for the last 2,000 years. He is a leader that all Catholics can turn to when issues and confusions arise. He also provides some consistency in the Catholic Church despite an ever-changing world around us,” he said.
Peloquin said he loves going to BYU and has made amazing friends.
“Catholics and Latter-day Saints share a lot more in common in terms of morals and values. And to be in a place where religion and spirituality is held in such a high regard is a refreshing environment to be in when surrounded by such a secular world,” he said.
“Despite our different beliefs, we’re really not so different,” Peloquin said, regarding the Catholic and Latter-day Saint religions.
“I was fortunate enough to go to World Youth Day in 2002 with Pope John Paul II. As he passed by on his ‘popemobile,’ people were waving flags from their different countries,” she said. “It felt almost like time stopped for a minute and the world was at peace. People were crying. It was one of the first moments of my life when I realized that the word ‘Catholic’ truly means ‘universal.'”
Juliana Boerio-Goates, a Catholic chemistry professor at BYU from Latrobe, Pa., was shocked when Pope Benedict XVI resigned.
“It was 4:30 a.m., I was working on my lectures for my two classes at 8 and 9 a.m., when a Washington Post news alert flashed across my computer screen. My first reaction was that it wasn’t April Fool’s day, who was playing a joke on me?” said Boerio-Goates.
“My second reaction was that either my email or the newspaper had been hacked. I went to the New York Times, which was reporting the same story,” she said.
Boerio-Goates said Pope Benedict XVI was dealing with problems entering our world, which required a vigor he realized he didn’t have anymore.
“We have an opportunity to bring in a person with a different set of gifts — personal and spiritual — at a time when they are sorely needed,” she said.
Boerio-Goates has had a wonderful experience at BYU and finds she is a much better Catholic for having been at BYU for 30 years than if she had taught at Notre Dame.
“I have had great opportunities to explain to students that ‘No, my forehead isn’t dirty, it’s Ash Wednesday,” she said.
“On the downside, I’ve had many, many young men students, fresh off their missions, who think that they could convert me. I’ve had to find gentle ways to thank them for the concern of my soul but conversion was not in my future,” she said.
Pope Francis will be officially named as pope on Tuesday, March 19.
Peloquin stated his respect for Pope Francis by saying, “He really is a spiritual shepherd, not a king or someone to be worshipped, but a leader for Catholics and Christians worldwide.”