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Election Of Pope Francis Could Signal New Start For Church


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Not since the early centuries of the Roman Catholic Church has a pope come from outside Europe.

MONTAGNE: Pope Francis, the first pontiff ever to take that name, comes from Argentina. It's part of the zone commonly described as the Global South, regions that include sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, now home to hundreds of millions of Catholics.

INSKEEP: So it's a symbolic change, though our story begins in an ancient setting at the Vatican, amid centuries-old buildings made of stone quarried from the walls of even older buildings from the Roman Empire.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.


SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Despite pouring rain, St. Peter's Square was packed hours before billowing white smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney announced the election of a new pope.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)


POGGIOLI: The sea of umbrellas exploded with joy when a red-robed cardinal announced the new pope, who takes the name Pope Francis. Then he too appeared on the loggia overlooking the square and greeted the crowd.

POPE FRANCIS: (Foreign language spoken)

POGGIOLI: Dear brothers and sisters, Pope Francis said, my brother cardinals needed a new pope and they went nearly to the ends of the world to find him. The crowd went wild.


POGGIOLI: The simplicity and the humility of the new pope endeared him immediately even to the most skeptical Romans.

Carlotta Frattari, a 23-year-old law student from Rome, came to see the new pope with her own eyes. She was glad she came.

CARLOTTA FRATTARI: This has been amazing. Amazing. Like, I was born here, and this is an amazing feeling.

POGGIOLI: Frattari is hopeful Pope Francis will end the crises that have been buffeting the church.

FRATTARI: Now the image of the church doesn't give us something to believe in. So actually I think that his way of speaking to us, his preach, that was very meaningful.

POGGIOLI: Afterwards, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York met with reporters and talked about the emotional experience of the conclave election process.

CARDINAL TIMOTHY DOLAN: There's a sense of relief on all of us and a sense of peace and serenity because, once again, Jesus is taking care of his church, and he's provided us with a new good shepherd, and there's a - that in itself is a sense of relief.

POGGIOLI: Now everyone is asking who is the new pope and where does he come from. Otto Maduro, a Venezuelan sociologist, stresses the importance that the man chosen for the papacy is not from Europe but from Latin America, where 40 percent of the world's Catholics live.

OTTO MADURO: It's a real important shock. (Laughing)

Many of us in Latin America have had for years, of course, the hope that a Latin American would become pope. We also know that that doesn't guarantee absolutely anything because there as many or more conservative bishops, archbishops and cardinals among our clergy as you can find anywhere else.

POGGIOLI: Maduro does raise some questions about Bergoglio's alleged silence during the military junta in Argentina in the 1970s and the dirty war in which 30,000 people disappeared.

MADURO: Those ties have never been clear or proven. But it's been repeatedly pointed out that he was consistently silent about the violations of human rights in Argentina throughout the entire period of the military dictatorship.

POGGIOLI: But the immediate reaction to the new pope, a man known for his humility and simplicity - and his dedication to the social justice ethos of many Latin American Catholics - was a warm welcome, even by progressive Catholic groups.

Bergoglio's election is seen as a setback for the Roman curia - the Vatican administration responsible for many crises afflicting the church. There's great hope the new pope will radically reform the curia and finally open up a frank dialogue between local churches and the Vatican, which has long turned a deaf ear to many of the concerns of Catholics across the world, and Pope Francis' first words - urging a joint journey of people and bishops - was an echo of the second Vatican Council, whose principles could be revived by the pope who has come from the ends of the world.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.
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