White smoke in the rain: The historic day Pope Francis was elected

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NEW YORK — It was 7 p.m. in Vatican City on March 13, 2013, and Dan Mannarino was just finishing up a long day for PIX11, waiting for news about the next pope.  His colleague, Mary Murphy, had taken over his spot in St. Peter’s Square to do the overnight shift.  It had been raining all day, and suddenly a small roar went up from the crowd.

Murphy looked at the Jumbotron next to St. Peter’s Basilica — her eyes then darted to the chimney of the Sistine Chapel.

“It’s white, the smoke is white,” Murphy screamed, knowing immediately the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church had just been elected.

Mannarino scrambled back into position with Murphy, and for the next hour, the two waited with tens of thousands for an announcement on who the next pontiff would be.  The square resembled a tent city, with canopies set up to protect camera equipment, and thousands of colorful umbrellas dotting the landscape.  There was plenty of speculation that an Italian Cardinal named Scola was near the top of the list, and an African cardinal with the last name Turkson.

Murphy and Mannarino had been sent to the Vatican, because there was heavy talk a cardinal from the United States might be selected, Timothy Dolan of New York or Sean O’Malley from Boston.

But they were always cognizant of the Latin American possibility. Forty percent of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America, and their numbers were growing, along with those in Africa.

The PIX11 duo remained on “live” TV, doing commentary and waiting for a name.  During an afternoon break, Murphy had been fortunate to get a blue book listing the bios of all, 115 Cardinals who were voting on the next pontiff.  One of them would emerge on the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica in a white cassock.

When the name Jorge Mario Bergoglio was finally announced (in Latin), just after 8:05 p.m. Rome time, many journalists were confused.  The Latin pronunciation made the name hard to decipher.  But we did hear the name “Francisco” and knew that was the chosen name of the just-elected Holy Father.

Within about 60 seconds, we heard the name again, “Bergoglio.  From Argentina.”  And the frenzy began.

Latin Americans in the crowd were thrilled.

Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio was 76 years old, and that was a surprise.

He was born in Buenos Aires to an Italian-immigrant father and a mother of Italian descent, as well.

He was the oldest of five children.

He was the first Jesuit priest to be elected pope in the church’s 2,000 year history.

He was the very first pontiff from the Americas.

When Pope Francis appeared on the loggia, he seemed shy and perhaps a bit stiff, as he waved to the crowds in St. Peter’s Square.

He joked that his fellow cardinals had “gone to the ends of the earth” to elect him.

He prayed for the church and also for the still-living pope he’d succeeded — Benedict XVI.

It became immediately clear that Francis’ papacy would be different.

He kept his look simple — he had a Jesuit cross and didn’t wear the traditional, red stole that other popes like Benedict used.

He took a bus to get back to his room and, the next day, paid his hotel bill in Rome.

He received a tour of the papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace—and then decided to live permanently in the Vatican guest house.

Bergoglio had taken the name Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi—after a fellow cardinal encouraged him to remember the poor.

St. Francis is the patron saint of the poor, animals, and the environment.

Pope Francis’ first encyclical this year was called “Laudato Si”—and it implores men and women to take better care of their common home, the Earth.

Mannarino and Murphy will never forget the moment the white smoke billowed from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel.

And neither will the thousands who were there with them.

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