A puff of white smoke rose from the chimney at the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City Wednesday afternoon, signifying that a group of Catholic cardinals had picked a new pope to replace Benedict XVI.
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, of Argentina, made his first appearance as the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church on the balcony at St. Peter’s Basilica. He will go by the name Pope Francis, referencing St. Francis Assisi who was the founder of the Franciscan Order and devoted himself to a life of poverty.
The crowd of onlookers in front of St. Peter’s, waiting to see the Pope for the first time, shouted, “Habemus papam!” Their call translates to “we have a pope!”
Last month, Pope Benedict resigned on the grounds that he was no longer physically able to carry out his job. He became the first pope in 598 years to resign.
The decision to elect the new pontiff came after the fifth ballot cast by the 115 cardinals since the papal conclave began Tuesday. Pope Francis, 76, is the first non-European pope to be elected.
In Park Slope, Catholics, former Catholics and people of varying religious backgrounds had a range of reactions to Pope Francis' election, from joy to doubt.
Brother Tom Barton, the Director of Campus Ministry at Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School on 19th Street, was excited about the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
“I was secretly hoping that the Pope would be not be European. This is certainly a good surprise,” Brother Barton said, who lives in Our Lady of Angels Friary in Bay Ridge. “The little we know of the man is that he is for the poor and lives a simple lifestyle. The Vatican Council called us to be a church of the poor and we have been struggling with that for 50 years, but he is from a part of the world that has poor in large numbers and he is a Pope for the poor.”
Barton said that he was pleased with how quick the election took place, which only took two days.
“The electors obviously had an idea of who they wanted to lead us. Archbishop Gregory said that Pope Francis was the runner up when Pope Benedict won the election," Barton explained. "He’ll be a very good leader and is a champion of the poor.”
Barton explained that Pope Francis took his name from St. Francis Assisi, who devoted his life to the poor, and this adoption is an “indication of where and how he will lead the Catholic Church.”
Diego Ocasio, a 75-year-old Park Slope resident who was born in Puerto Rico, liked that Pope Francis is from Argentina.
"I think it's a good choice because there's never been a pope from South America," Ocasio said, explaining that his age is not a problem. "Nothing bad at all about that. He looks young and healthy. He's going to change everything."
However, not everyone in Park Slope thought that the election of a new pope will bring change to the world.
Mike Jones, a father of a first grader at St. Saviour Academy on Eighth Avenue, said that a new Pope will not change a thing in the Catholic Church.
“This signifies that there will be no change whatsoever. The papacy is a club with tremendous wealth and power whose ends are only good for the status quo,” Jones said, who was born into a Catholic family with five other siblings but left the Catholic religion after years of physical abuse from nuns in Catholic school. “They will never address pedophilia or other issues that are ruining the archaic religion.”
He continued, “My reaction is sad resignation that there will be no change until the Church has the courage to stand up and address its issues.”
Jules Hill-Craig, who grew up a Protestant and attended the Church of England, said Pope Francis “seemed humble and ready for the job.”
However, she disagrees with the Catholic Church.
“I think there is something rotten in the Vatican. I think its years of corruption and pedophilia need to be dealt with. There’s no transparency and there needs to be in a religious institution,” Hill-Craig said while on Eighth Avenue. “The Vatican should be dismantled and rebuilt.”
Hill-Craig, who moved from England to Park Slope seven years ago, said that the Pope as a religious figure is treated like a “rock star.”
“When I was at the Vatican years ago, I saw the Pope and he had three body guards and was wearing an expensive watch and pair of shoes,” she said. “It was like watching a rock star, and that doesn’t sit well with me. A pope needs to be humble.”
Maura Lorenzen, the principal of St. Saviour Catholic Academy, said that all of her students watched today’s historic moment:
“There was so much excitement today, even more than a snow day,” Principal Lorenzen said. “When the kids saw the white smoke, there was a roar of joy throughout the entire school. They felt they were part of history.”
She said that she felt lucky to watch the election with her students.
“I was very excited during the election, it was a great event to share with the kids.”
What do you think of the election of Pope Francis? Let us know in the comments section below!