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"Habemus Papam"!

By Paul T. Shipale
All eyes were set on the newly installed Vatican 6ft copper chimney atop the Sistine Chapel to tell the world if there is a new pope. Black smoke means "not yet". White smoke means a pope is chosen.

While black smoke rose above the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, signalling that 115 Roman Catholic cardinals from around the world, who gathered in the Vatican to elect the 266th pontiff for the Roman Catholic Church, failed to agree on a new pope during the fourth ballots of the papal conclave, on second day of the conclave, on a fifth ballot, white smoke poured from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel to herald new Pope's canonical election as supreme Pontiff and tell the world there is a new Pope in the name of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, 76, a historic first for the church, geographically. This is indeed a dramatic historic moment as the Catholic Church elected its first South American Pope.

While the first round of voting, on the Monday afternoon they entered the conclave, is like a primary ballot where votes are scattered across a wide range of candidates with some votes serving as courtesy votes cast to flatter a friend before serious voting starts, votes began to switch in the second and third voting rounds, pushing the candidacy's count of the newly elected Pope until he clinched victory.

At least two thirds of the votes were required for valid election. In the Sistine Chapel itself, cardinals prayed, voted and waited for election results.

The proto-deacon Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, appeared on the Vatican balcony of the St Peter's Basilica and announced the successful election of the Pope, reciting the famous phrase "Habemus Papam". The proto-deacon Cardinal announced the old name of the new Pope and the name he will be known from now on as Pope Francis.

The proto-deacon Cardinal is also the one who imposes the pallium to the new Pope during Mass at the start of his Pontificate.

The Pallium, woven wool of lambs and sheep, bears imprinted with five red crosses, representing the wounds of Christ and three pins, one for each nail of the crucifixion. Pope Francis appeared on the Vatican balcony and greeted the cheering crowd. The first thing he did was to ask for blessings and then a prayer for his predecessor.

The cardinal electors present in the conclave should have been 117, but they were 115, because Cardinal Darmaatmadja is sick, and Cardinal O'Brien was absent after his resignation on 25 February. The majority required was therefore equal to 77 votes, representing the 2/3 majority of the 115 votes.

The secret process to select a new leader for the world's 1.2 billion Catholics was expected to last two or three days because no conclave has lasted more than five days in the past century. Pope Benedict XVI was elected within barely 24 hours in 2005 after just four rounds of voting.

This time there were no big favorites, making the election wide open and allowing the possibility of a compromise candidate should there be deadlock in the conclave. This is exactly what happened when the conclave chose Pope Francis, a known humble man who lives in an apartment in Buenos Aires and takes public transport to go to work. In conclave number crunching, one statistic frequently stood out: About 40 percent of the world's Catholics live in Latin America. That compares with 24 percent for Europe and 16 percent for sub-Saharan Africa, according to a 2011 study by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life.

By raw numbers alone, the European cardinals could have pretty well dictated that the papacy remains on their continent if that was their only concern. The conclave was dominated by 60 European cardinals, including 28 from Italy. That is more than half of those eligible for the conclave. The trouble is that many European dioceses - like much of the West - have been hit hard by the cleric scandals over the past decade. Although none of the possible papal contenders from Europe are directly implicated, there was likely to be careful consideration among the cardinals about how much potential spillover would come with any choice.

This suggests that if the cardinals were willing to look outside Europe, their first choice was going to be South America, which brings 19 cardinals to the conclave, mostly from Brazil and Mexico, including two candidates - Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Leonardo Sandri of Argentina - who have the double cachet of being South Americans with Italian ancestry.

The word "conclave" comes from the Latin meaning locked up "with key". It is a church tradition that began in 1268 when local officials became so fed up with the lack of a decision among cardinals - they had deliberated for more than two years - that they locked them away with limited food and water to encourage a result. During the voting, each cardinal wrote his choice on a piece of paper inscribed with the words "Eligo in summum pontificem" - Latin for "I elect as Supreme Pontiff".

The questions on everyone's lips were; can the fractious Italians rally behind a single candidate? Can the Americans live up to their surprise billing as a power broker? And will all 115 cardinals from around the world be able to reach a meeting of minds on whether the church needs a 'peoplefriendly' pope or a 'hard-edged' manager able to tame Vatican bureaucrats?

In other words, should the pope be a "pastoral" one - somebody with the charisma and communication skills to attract new members to a dwindling flock - or a "managerial" one capable of a church overhaul in a time of sex-abuse scandals and bureaucratic disarray?

It is clear that the newly elected Pope Francis is a "pastoral" one with the charisma and communication skills to attract new members to a dwindling flock. He is a 'peoplefriendly' pope. This is confirmed by the new name of St Francis he chose, a man believed to have been humble. One of the famous lines associated with that name is the symbolic and evocative of rebuilding, reforming and giving birth to the new church.

While deliberations have been secret, there appeared to have been two big camps that have been at loggerheads in the run-up to the conclave. One, dominated by the powerful Vatican bureaucracy called the Curia which is believed to have sought a pope who will let it continue calling the shots as usual. The speculation was that the Curia was pushing the candidacy of Brazilian Odilo Scherer, who has close ties to the Curia and was expected to name an Italian insider as Secretary of State - the Vatican No. 2 who runs day-to-day affairs at the Holy See.

Another camp, apparently spearheaded by American cardinals, was said to be pushing for a reform-minded pope with the strength to shake up the Curia, tarnished by infighting and the "Vatileaks" scandal in which retired Pope Benedict XVI's own butler leaked confidential documents to a journalist. These cardinals reportedly wanted the Milan's 71- year-old archbishop Angelo Scola as pope, as he is seen as having the clout to bring the Curia into line. Cardinal Scola is considered to hold conservative views on social and family issues. But he was also seen as comfortable with the public persona needed for the modernday papacy.

There was one more camp, which presumably commanded enough votes to influence the election. It is the "Benedict faction," the 67 voting cardinals who owe their red hat and presence in the conclave to the most recent pope. They made up more than half of the voters. Their loyalty to Benedict might have damaged the ambitions of any cardinal thought to have damaged his papacy and been part of the "divisions" that Benedict lamented in his final addresses. Their names are presumably listed in a secret report prepared for Benedict about the "Vatileaks" scandal. Only a few people have seen that report. None of the cardinals who were voting are among them.

Amid all the fevered speculation about who might succeed Pope Benedict XVI, one possibility that seemed particularly tantalizing was that the conclave could elect an African to be the first black pontiff in the nearly 2,000-year history of the papacy. One of those mentioned as a possible candidate for pope, was Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, 64, who was named to head the Vatican's justice and peace office in 2009.

But has there really never been a black or an African pope? While it can seem to the contemporary mind that the papacy is a purely European institution, and predominantly an Italian one to boot, the early popes in fact reflected the diversity of the early church that was born in the Middle East and spread around the Mediterranean basin, from Greece to Rome and the Iberian peninsula and with great success to North Africa.

According to the Liber Pontificalis' record of names, three popes-Pope St Victor I (ca186-198), Pope St Miltiades (311-14), and Pope St Gelasius (492-496)-were Africans. The Liber Pontificalis is dated from the sixth century. The record of names begins with St Peter and it continued to be written until 1431. The upshot of all this was that if the cardinals had elected a black African this week, it would have been a big deal as the main African candidates are from sub-Saharan Africa.

The Vatican would insist that the cardinals who participate in the conclave vote their conscience, each influenced only by silent prayers and reflection. Everybody knows, however, that power plays, vested interests and maneuvering are all part of the game, and that the horse-trading was already under way before the election. I guess, this is what is meant by the Holy Spirit choosing a Pope while the conclave's task is to find it.

Between the two big camps that have been at loggerheads in the run-up to the conclave, the speculation is that the Curia's views won the day with the election of Pope Francis considered to hold conservative views and has built a reputation as a humble man who pushed away the trappings of power. He has Italian roots and strikes a balance between the two camps' views and blends together so many things, including his fight for social justice and irradiating serenity and peace.

One thing is for sure, the newly elected Pontiff is taking over the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church amidst a sea of troubles - including seemingly never-ending sexabuse scandals, rivalry and strife inside the Vatican bureaucracy, a shortage of priests and a rise of secularism in its European strongholds. However, Pope Francis is the answer to all that as he is seen to bring back the church to basics, to the gospel and to its calling. He seems to be a good shepherd indeed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper and are not in any way connected to my position but merely reflect my personal opinion as a citizen.


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