Cardinals Elect Argentina's Jorge Mario Bergoglio As New Pope

Guests

Sylvia Poggioli, senior European correspondent, NPR
Philip Reeves, foreign correspondent, NPR
John Burnett, religion correspondent, NPR
Peter Steinfels, co-founder of the Center on Religion and Culture, Fordham University
Otto Maduro, sociologist of religion
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, foreign correspondent, NPR

Cardinals at the Vatican chose Argentine cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new pope. He will take the papal name Francis and is the first pope from South America. NPR's Neal Conan talks with guests about the significance of the event around the world.

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NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. It's Wednesday, Political Junkie day here on TALK OF THE NATION. Of course, we've been overtaken by other events. There's been an election, real votes we always go to when they're available. The actual votes this week are in Vatican City, where a new pope has been elected.

But Ken Rudin, before we say goodbye, was there a ScuttleButton winner this past week?

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: There was, there was also a trivia - by the way, is this called the pope-pourri section of Political Junkie?

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: The ScuttleButton winner was Jen Tilden(ph) of Denver, Colorado. The answer was Once in a Blue Moon, which we'll have to explain some other time. Do you want a trivia answer, as well?

CONAN: Well, since we asked the trivia question, and if you'll recall, it was the last president whose child ran for statewide office previous to George H.W. Bush.

RUDIN: Maybe we'll take email answers for that.

CONAN: OK, and award the T-shirt and the button on the basis of the email because we're going to go on to the discussion of the pope. And Ken will be back with us, of course, with the Political Junkie next week. Ken, thanks very much.

RUDIN: (unintelligible)

CONAN: And so joining us now from Rome is NPR's correspondent, Sylvia Poggioli. Sylvia, good to have you with us.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Thank you. Good to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: And so we're in this moment of tension. The white smoke billowed out, what, about 10 minutes ago, and we're still awaiting the identity of the new pope.

POGGIOLI: Absolutely. The last time, the time from when we saw white smoke and the bells in 2005, when Joseph Ratzinger was elected and became Benedict XVI, it took 45 minutes from the smoke to when he appeared on the loggia, and that is the protodeacon, as he's called. This time it'll be Cardinal Tauran who will announce in Latin, quite milking the Latin for everything it possibly can. He will say habemus papam, we have a pope, and then he will give the name in Latin.

We're all waiting. What's really - it was unexpected, I think, that it would be so fast. The - nobody thought it would last more than maybe three days, but this is just one ballot more than the election of Ratzinger, Pope Benedict, in 2005, and he was a shoo-in. The pre-conclave period looked like there were huge divisions between the so-called insiders, the Vatican administration, the Curia and the so-called reformers from outside of the Vatican.

But it seems that probably the fact that they did this quite fast, in five ballots, it means they probably wanted to give a sign of unity in the church at a time when it is being buffeted by so many crises all over the world.

CONAN: And so, many crises around the world. Those of us outside the church tend to think of those crises as the - well, the scandals about, you know, cover-ups of priests who attacked children and the problems with not enough priests and the dwindling membership in many parts of the world. It's not always clear that the Catholic cardinals see the same problems the same way.

POGGIOLI: No, absolutely. I think the whole issue of the clerical sex abuse, which started in the - that is the revelations started in the United States and then exploded about two or three years ago across Europe, in Germany and Ireland, it's come to roost here. But I still think there is still an unawareness. I don't know if it's an unwillingness to really tackle this problem within here at the seat of the Vatican Church.

Yes, Benedict did many things, but I don't think many people inside the curia have really have grasped how serious the problem is. And at the same time last year, they were really buffeted by this whole VatiLeaks scandal that revealed an incredible degree of corruption and infighting, intrigue. And also what's not been talked about so much are the finances, the very murky finances of the Vatican, the issues concerning the Vatican Bank, which has been under investigation by Italian authorities for suspected money laundering and all sorts of other strange things.

So there are a lot of, a lot of problem afflicting the Catholic Church right now.

CONAN: And reform of the Curia, this is essentially the bureaucracy, the engines of administration of Catholic Church, reform of the Curia is going to be very high on the new pope's agenda.

POGGIOLI: It's going to be very high, and it's going to be a huge task because it has gained an enormous power, both first under the long papacy, 27 years of John Paul II and who basically let others take care of it. He had other priorities. His was - he was an evangelizer, he wanted to bring the message of the church to the rest of - to the world. He had a really geopolitical, also, vision of the church.

And meantime, the administration, he let things go, and it became an incredibly powerful and ingrained administration. Benedict was unable, he even admitted, I think, and unable to really tackle the problem. So it's going to be a very, very big problem, and the question we'll see now, who have they chosen.

Have they chosen an insider, who knows, as they say, where the bodies are buried but who knows what the - how to tackle those problems? Or have they chosen an outside who may not know exactly how the whole Curia is structured. This is what we're waiting to hear, I hope in not too many minutes more.

CONAN: Shortly. Will it be a theologian, a student like Benedict, or will it be somebody more outgoing with a lot more charisma, like John Paul II, his predecessor. And Sylvia, while we still don't know who the new pope is, do we know what the new pope is doing? Where - what happens after the election, before they go out on the balcony?

POGGIOLI: OK, there are a couple of things that happen. First, he has to accept, and that's one thing, and then once he's accepted, he goes into a little room that's right next to the Sistine Chapel, and it's called the Room of Tears. Mainly it's been given that name because that's where the emotion will probably come out, the whole experience of having been selected pope. And there he will find three different sizes of papal vestments, small, medium and large depending on his size.

I think there are several, several possibilities of shoes. There's a wider variety of shoe sizes. He will be dressed in the papal vestments, and then he will move from the Sistine Chapel to the Pauline Chapel. There he will stop and pray for a few minutes in silence, alone, and then the protodeacon, who is Cardinal Tauran, will be the first to appear on the loggia and will make the announcement, and then the new pope will follow, and he will say something.

He will announce also the name that he has taken, and usually the pope explains why he's chosen that name. And we'll learn that all in very short time.

CONAN: And we'll be deconstructing all of these events as they happen. In the meantime, we continue to wait. Phil Reeves is in St. Peter's Square, waiting for the event to happen. Sylvia Poggioli is with us in Rome. And here with us in Studio 3A is NPR's John Burnett. John, good of you to be with us.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: It's great to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And I wonder, this is the fifth ballot. As Sylvia said, last time around it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Joseph Ratzinger would be the next pope, come number two to John Paul II. Is this - how does this count in terms of length of conclaves?

BURNETT: This is really - this is short, considering that there was no clear frontrunner. It's really remarkable how fast they came through with this. I know that back in the 13th century, very famously, the conclave was out for almost three years deciding on a pope, to the point where they had to famously cut off - they put them on - the cardinals on bread and water, and then finally they pulled the top off of the palace to let the Holy Spirit in in order to force them to choose...

CONAN: And the rain.

(LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: That's right. So the process has gotten infinitely quicker over the years, as we've just seen.

CONAN: And as this conversation continues, as we continue to await the identity of the new pope, will there be - inevitably there's going to be a break in administration. There was this sort of continuous administration between John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger, again, who was his number two in there. All of the cardinals who are electing the pope today - who did elect the pope today - were appointed either by John Paul II or by Benedict XVI. Do we expect any break, any contrast, any new direction?

BURNETT: Well, the tradition in picking a pope has been of alternating in styles. There's a saying in Italian: After a fat pope, a lean pope. So the last - the outgoing pope who sat in the Throne of Peter was an insider, Benedict, who was a theologian, not as strong in pastoral skills, a great thinker, a great intellectual.

And so, you know, some of the odds-makers are believing that now it's time for another pope in the mold of John Paul II or even of Pius XXIII, who was, you know, more popular, a people's pope, but also one who, as Sylvia has said, has to have these administrative skills to reform the Curia that is beset by so many problems now.

So it really, it has to be a super-pope, someone who can bridge so many different skills that this troubled church requires in its history.

CONAN: Sylvia Poggioli there in Rome, the pope, in addition to being, of course, the figurehead, has an actual executive role. His word is, let's not put too fine a point on it, law.

POGGIOLI: Absolutely. He is - he's an absolute monarch. It's - probably many people have - say this all the time. This is the last absolute monarchy in the world perhaps. And that's one of, I think, the problems. Actually, it's very interesting because by resigning, some people - Benedict by his resignation - feel that maybe he - the model of the papacy may change now. In some way, the idea that, you know, it isn't necessarily tenure for life, and that may have sort of also diminished a little bit what was considered the semi-divine nature of the papacy.

But it could possibility bring that position, that figure a little bit down a lot. It really depends on who we're going to see now - a manager, a theologian, an evangelizer, you know, all in one, who knows? The - there was not an enormous excitement, as we all have said many times, of a frontrunner. The pool was very big, but there was no really, really big standout cardinal, at least to our knowledge. Maybe they've discovered something, you know, during the pre-conclave consultations among themselves. Not many - many of them did not know each other.

And this was - they had a week, especially those who come from further afar - farther afield from Europe or the United States. There were many, many, many cardinals who had never really met any of the others. And so that was an occasion for - who knows if there were some big surprises there.

CONAN: If you're just joining us, on the fifth ballot, the College of Cardinals has elected a new pope today in Vatican City, in the Sistine Chapel. We don't yet know who that new pope will be, who it is and indeed what name he will take. But 1.2 billion Catholics around the world are awaiting their new leader, the identity of the new leader and the new direction that new leader may take. And, of course, that includes, what, I think about a quarter of all Americans identify themselves as Catholic these days, and no small significance there too.

And as Sylvia was just mentioning - NPR's Sylvia Poggioli with us in Rome - this is an enormous institution that is broken up, of course, into various dioceses and archdioceses. But nevertheless, central direction comes from the Vatican, from the pope himself. And this is an institution unlike any other in the world. Yes, an ancient institution, but as we've also been talking about, one that is adapting to changes, including the decision by Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, the former Joseph Ratzinger, to retire rather than to serve out until his death, which had been the tradition for more than 600 years, and as Sylvia Poggioli was just speculating, well, maybe has opened up a new direction in the idea of how long the pope's reign may be.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's go back to the Vatican and to NPR's Philip Reeves there in St. Peter's Square.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi. Yes. It's now nearly half an hour since the white smoke poured out of that chimney on top of the Sistine Chapel. And since then, we have seen the crowd here in the plaza outside or in front of that magnificent basilica, St. Peter's, we've seen that crowd grow considerably in number. People are streaming here, carrying multicolored umbrellas against the rain, although the rain seems to have relented a little now. It was very fierce earlier. The crowd seems to be quite young and certainly seems very cheerful. And there's a mood of great euphoria here, I think some surprise too because this has happened rather quickly.

CONAN: And this is what five hours off Eastern Time, so getting on towards just past 9 o'clock at night?

REEVES: No, no. It's 7:30.

CONAN: 7:30. I could - I never did well with clocks.

(LAUGHTER)

REEVES: Well, I totally understand your problem, but the sky is - above Rome is completely black. It's - night has fallen here, although the scene itself is illuminated by these powerful spotlights shining down into the oval-shaped plaza where this crowd is gathered. And we're now seeing a procession of the Swiss Guard in their ancient uniforms, carrying what appear to be spears coming through the plaza.

CONAN: I think those are pikes, Philip. The Swiss at one point...

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: ...the most famous pike men in Europe.

REEVES: OK. Well, you know more than I do about the armory of the Swiss Guard. I'm sorry about that, but nonetheless, it's adding to this very colorful scene here. It's quite remarkable to be sitting - watching it. And as I say, it's - you can see people holding up mobile phones and cameras because, of course, this is a moment for them, particularly for the Catholics among them, which I will assume are the majority, is a moment of great history, and they want to record that.

And they're flourishing flags. I could see the flag of the Vatican there being waved in front of the Basilica of St. Peter's. And the extreme cold and wet of this day seems to have largely been forgotten by this throng of people who are now gathered here to find out who the next pontiff will be and to be here - to greet him, which is a tradition among Romans to come to greet the new pope.

CONAN: NPR religion correspondent John Burnett is with us here in Studio 3A in Washington. And, John, of course, Benedict XVI was the first pope to open a Twitter account. Would you be surprised if we found out the identity of the new pope not from the balcony there at the Sistine Chapel but on Twitter?

BURNETT: You know, there's been more tweeting about - of the selection of this pope, obviously, because it's a new technology. But a lot of the cardinals have their own Twitter accounts. Some have Facebook pages, probably maintained by their aides. But that's one of the challenges that if this Vatican needs to bring more young Catholics into the fold, and so one has to speak to them in the language of the day. And so as another aspect of the reform, to bring this ancient bureaucracy, this almost renaissance court into the modern world, how does the Vatican communicate its message digitally? We'll watch for that.

CONAN: NPR religion correspondent, John Burnett, with us here in Washington. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, our long-time correspondent in Rome is also with us. And as we just heard, Philip Reeves is in St. Peter's Square. And if you are just joining us, it is now about half an hour since white smoke came from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel. That signified the election on the fifth ballot of a new pope by two-thirds majority of the College of Cardinals who went into their meeting on Tuesday. We'll stay with this story until we know the identity of the new pope. And, well, hear what he's got to say, at least in his initial message. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We have a pope but we don't know who it is, not just yet. In a few minutes, we expect a cardinal to come out on the balcony of the Sistine Chapel, where earlier today the College of Cardinals on the fifth ballot elected a new pope by a two-thirds majority, to say habemus papam. That's Latin for we have a pope. And then the new figure will emerge. And we'll find out who is and what name he has taken and begin to find out what direction the Catholic Church will take from here. In the meantime, we await that news.

John Burnett, NPR's religion correspondent is with us here in Studio 3A in Washington. Sylvia Poggioli, our senior European correspondent is with us from Rome. And, Sylvia, as we look ahead to the challenges of the new pope, among them will be the, well, major regional divides, the interests of the American Catholic Church, for example, distinct from the Catholic Church in Latin America or in Africa.

POGGIOLI: Absolutely. This is going to be one of the most interesting things because the last papacy, the papacy of Benedict, was really one can say is Eurocentric. It was focused on Europe. The decline of the faithful, of the empty churches, what Benedict called the growing secularization, the growing sense of relativism, which he felt was the enemy of the - of modern-day Catholicism. And the focus he let go a lot - he did not take much interest in what was happening in the other parts of the world, this global church, which is - I think we're very close to the announcement now. I don't know. No, there's a bit silence. All right. Anyway, so, we'll see.

(LAUGHTER)

POGGIOLI: We'll see if it's an American. We'll see if it's a Latin American. I think, going into the conclave, I think the Latin Americans where very - in a very good position or maybe went - they went further. We're just very close, I think, to the announcement. This is now - I'm watching Vatican TV, and we're seeing all the Swiss guards at attention. And I think we're very close to the announcement.

CONAN: And, John Burnett, was - excuse me. Phil Reeves was right. Some of them are carrying swords, but the others are carrying pikes. In the meantime, as we await this announcement, Sylvia, the - there's been frustration, I think, in much of the world press because nobody leaks from the Sistine Chapel. Has there been any news in the Italian newspapers? Do they have better sources?

POGGIOLI: Well, since they entered the conclave yesterday, which will be yesterday afternoon our time, no. To my knowledge, there have been no leaks at all. But before that, the Italian media was full of leaks because also the pre-conclave meetings, there was an oath of secrecy, and they were not supposed to leak any information. But - and at one point, the American cardinals were told not to hold open press conferences anymore. But it was really the Italians - we assumed Italian cardinals or other cardinals leaking to the Italian media profusely.

CONAN: So we will find out who is right. John Burnett, we've talked about the different interests of different areas of the church. Do we know what American Catholics would want in a new pope?

BURNETT: Yes. It's interesting. I was posted in East Africa for the second half of last year and living among African Catholics. And so just the conservative nature of Catholics so dramatically changed from what is the atmosphere here in the United States, what we want from a new pope. The Pew Research Center has done surveys on that, more liberal teachings, allowing priests to get married, letting women become priests, simply against the death penalty, for more artificial methods of birth control. So it really - it's a very different complexion here.

CONAN: And, Sylvia, I wanted to bring you back in. That may be what the American Catholics tell pollsters they want. Many of these are matters of Catholic doctrine. These are not going to be easy to change. They may be impossible to change.

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, but already - even after Benedict resigned, we started hearing a few little things from even some European cardinals, a little bit of hindsight maybe, the celibacy requirement for priests might be looked at, maybe, perhaps, restoring the role of deacons for women, which existed in the first and second centuries of Christianity.

Women had a rather substantial leadership role in the Catholic Church than after Constantine made Christianity the state religion and the church - worship moved into the open basilicas where women were pushed aside in public spaces. However, there's - you begin to hear a little bit in some circles, even for people - from cardinals you wouldn't have expected. There were the German cardinals who talked about the possibility of even, maybe, talking about celibacy. That's already a big step forward, I think.

CONAN: Units of the Swiss Guard, the papal regiment that protects the pope, ritually anyway, they are gathered in formation in front of the balcony and the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican where we're expecting the announcement of a new pope, shortly. The smoke that signified his election came out, I guess, about 40 minutes ago. There were - let's listen to some of the sounds there in St. Peter's Square.

POGGIOLI: Hello? I think we have lost the line. Is there anybody there?

CONAN: We're having a little difficulty with Sylvia's line so - but at the meantime, let's go and listen to the sounds from St. Peter's Square.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

CONAN: That's the sound from the Vatican, St. Peter's Square, just outside. And the - all eyes and every television camera in Rome is focused on the balcony at the - where the cardinal will appear to announce Habemus Papam, we have a pope. It is, well, as you might expect, gorgeously decorated. A golden arch that frames the balcony and vivid, red curtains behind and laced curtain behind that.

John Burnett, as we look at the ritual here, it reminds us that as much as we're talking social media and new ways of communication in 21st century, there is so much of tradition that ties people to this church in particular.

BURNETT: Which is why the radical change is not something that you expect, from one pope to the next. The preservation of really the status quo in some ways in conservatism, you know, we see from year to year, it's remarkable to see that this great appreciation for the antiquity of this ceremony as the world sweeps ahead with new forms of communication and new images.

CONAN: And it's interesting. Pope Benedict XVI, in many ways, was helping to redefine the character of the church. This is what it means, he says, to be a Catholic. You can wander away from doctrine, but don't go too far.

BURNETT: We'll see how far they go with the next pope, because they're talking about getting someone, potentially, from the Southern hemisphere who has a very different character than the one who just left.

CONAN: Philip Reeves in St. Peter's Square, as we continue to wait the announcement of the new pope. As you were reporting earlier, more and more people are piling in. I suspect there's not much room left.

REEVES: Yes, it's filling up certainly. It's actually a vast throng now, a multitude, that's all gathered here, looking up at the magnificent St. Peter's Basilica and illuminated by these spotlights against a very black sky that's - now that night has fallen here. And everyone is waiting now, and this, of course, is the climactic moment. The smoke was pretty exciting, but this is the climactic moment, the discovery of the identity of the next pope. And the crowd is in a very upbeat mood. There are a lot of young people here. Some people have been praying. There's been some singing and there's been some jumping up and down in celebration. But a hush has began to fall, because I think they are expecting this announcement to be very soon. It's now nearly 45 minutes or so since the smoke appeared, and around that time, we found out in 2005 that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger have been elected and had become Benedict XVI. So we are approaching the moment, I think.

CONAN: You're seeing it live there in person, Philip. I'm watching it on TV, and I can see American flags, and I can see the yellow and white flags of the papacy being waved as well.

REEVES: Yes, indeed. And an awful lot of mobile phones, of cameras. And there are flags from elsewhere in the world. I've seen German flags, Italian flags and so on. So - and it's quite colorful because, you know, this is quite a flamboyant city. And despite this being a very cold day - it's been raining most of the time. It's - the temperatures are very low. The crowd has come with these lovely, colorful umbrellas, and the scene is altogether very compelling, really. And, of course, the basilica itself is bathed in light, illuminating it, you know, rather, a pallid grandeur.

And so it is a scene that is worth coming to see, which is probably why some of the people gathered here have come, because amongst the pilgrims and the Romans and the faithful and the religious folk who are here, there are, of course, tourists, too, who want to be able to return home and say that they were there at the moment that the Catholic Church got its 266th pontiff.

CONAN: That is NPR's Philip Reeves, with us from St. Peter's Square. Also with us, senior European correspondent Sylvia Poggioli, who's there in Rome as well and NPR's religion correspondent, John Burnett, with us here in Studio 3A. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, Sylvia, I wanted to go back to you for a moment. And I guess we're going to have to wait some years to discover whether the momentous event is the election of this new pope of the decision by the previous pope to retire, just last month, a very sudden and surprising decision.

POGGIOLI: That's a very important thing, because, you know, we sort of have been forgetting that we've got another pope - emeritus, a retired pope just 20 miles south of Rome. And he will soon - when restoration is done in a former monastery on Vatican grounds, probably in a month or two, he will - Benedict emeritus pope - will come and live there. That's really practically under - in the shadow, under the window of who will be the new pope. This is going to be a very unusual situation. We're not going to probably see it play out very much in public.

But it will be very interesting, what it'll be like to have two popes almost under the same roof. This is a pretty unprecedented situation and we don't know to what the extent the cardinal is going into the conclave felt the influence of Benedict - indirect, of course - or whether they wanted to make a clean break. This is - these are big, big questions we'll be asking in coming weeks and months

CONAN: The difference will be they'll wear the same vestments, but one will wear brown loafers and the other is the red shoes of the pope. So that's one difference. Of course, the ring of power, that will be another distinction between the pope emeritus and the new pope, whoever that may be. And I was going to ask, you mentioned, Sylvia, earlier that Pope Benedict XVI was watching and following this news carefully. But we have no idea whether he was, well, calling anybody or even sending a tweet to somebody saying: Dolan, are you kidding?

(LAUGHTER)

POGGIOLI: Absolutely. We don't know. We do know that yesterday, though, in the Sistine Chapel when they were - there were a lot of other people who were then asked to leave. But one of the people who were there was Monsignor Georg Ganswein, who is the personal secretary to Benedict and he is - he was there in his role as head of the Pontifical Household. And he was one of those who was asked to leave, but he wasn't in the Sistine Chapel till just to the last moment. So...

CONAN: Philip Reeves, there in St. Peter's Square, I understand you have somebody ready to talk with us.

REEVES: I don't have anyone ready to talk to you. But I know that my colleague is out there in the throng, looking for someone to talk to you and, perhaps, that person is there now.

CONAN: Jonathan Blakely, I think it is.

REEVES: Yes, it is. Jonathan Blakely is out in the crowd and I'm sure you'll find plenty of people here all in a very buoyant mood and I'm sure very happy to talk about what they're feeling as they stand waiting to see who's going to be the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church (unintelligible) party atmosphere.

CONAN: Jonathan, are you there?

JONATHAN BLAKELY: OK. Daniel from Italy. I'm going to give him the phone right now. Daniel from Italy.

CONAN: Daniel from Italy. OK.

BLAKELY: Daniel, standby. Standby one second.

CONAN: We're standing by.

DANIEL: Yo, we are right at the (unintelligible) for the new pope. I hope that he's an Italian pope.

CONAN: You hope it's an Italian pope.

DANIEL: Yes.

CONAN: We hear the cardinal from Milan is among the favorites.

DANIEL: Yes. We need an Italian pope (unintelligible).

CONAN: Why specifically an Italian pope? The Italians have...

DANIEL: Well, because of the presence.

(LAUGHTER)

DANIEL: Thank you very much and sorry for my English. It's not the best.

CONAN: That's quite all right. Thank you very much for your time today.

DANIEL: Thank you too.

CONAN: Enjoy yourself.

DANIEL: (Italian spoken).

CONAN: Thank you very much. Well, that's Daniel from Italy. They are talking with us from St. Peter's Square. He is excited. Indeed, 1.2 billion Catholics around the world are excited. It was just - it's now 50 minutes ago that the news of the election of a new pope emerged - literally, emerged. White smoke bellowing from a chimney atop the Sistine Chapel, then the great bell began to ring. That's an innovation this year. An ancient signal existed the first time, though, it has been used to announced the election of a new pope that after some confusion, given the color of the smoke, after the election of the previous pope, Benedict XVI.

We are still awaiting a cardinal to emerge onto a small balcony above St. Peter's Square there in Vatican City to say those words that everybody's been waiting for, Habemus Papam. We have a pope. That's the Latin and then the new pope will emerge to - I'm sure the cheers of that vast throng that Philip Reeves was describing there in St. Peter's Square. He will announce his new name and then some explanation, perhaps, of where that name comes from and what significance that it has. This is a story that is dominating the news today.

Stay tuned to NPR for full developments as the announcement of the new pope emerges and then we'll get reaction from, well, not just Rome and Vatican City, but from around the world as well. We'll hear what American Catholics have to say about the new leader of their church and the direction, the hope he might take the church in, the direction, well, some may fear he will take the church in. Stay with us for full coverage. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. And we're still waiting. It was about an hour ago that we heard the news of the election of a new pope, but the new pope has yet to emerge on that balcony at the Sistine Chapel to reveal his new name and his identity to the crowd gathered below and to the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world who are holding their breaths metaphorically, and of course many other interested parties as well.

In the meantime, we're going to hear a little bit of the sound as people gathered, a massive throng there in St. Peter's Basilica - outside St. Peter's Basilica.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

CONAN: We expect the announcement habemus papam any minute now. In the meantime, let's go to New York. Peter Steinfels is a professor emeritus at Fordham University, where he cofounded the Center on Religion and Culture. He's also former New York Times religion columnist and joins us by the phone there from New York. Nice to have you with us.

PETER STEINFELS: Hello.

CONAN: And what does this moment mean to Catholics?

STEINFELS: Well, I just find it extremely ironic that we have all heard a million times that the church is not a democracy, and yet the whole world is now watching as to what will be the outcome of a vote. Now, certainly the College of Cardinals isn't the most representative body, but - and you might make a few quips at this point about the U.S. Senate also, but nonetheless it is amazing that we're waiting to see the outcome of a whole extended process of deliberation, discussion and finally balloting.

CONAN: And this an extraordinary moment because of the resignation of the previous pope.

STEINFELS: That's right, so right away we're setting new kinds of precedents, and we'll see whether that trend will continue.

CONAN: The American Catholics, if not their leaders, but Catholics have been regarded as sort of, well, wandering a bit from the flock, at least from Rome's point of view. This election is going to be very important for them.

STEINFELS: I think that's true, but I think that's true worldwide. It certainly was the case in Western Europe, that there's been a great falling off in Catholic identity and practice and affiliation. So - and that's a wider pattern. The church is growing in Africa, it's growing in other parts of the world, but all of them are facing their own particular issues, and that's one of the questions, I think, before us. What can one leader do for a 1.2 billion member church that exists in so many different cultures, different regions, under different kinds of political arrangements and so on?

CONAN: And one thing that American Catholics do want is a pope who will address perhaps more directly even than the previous pope the sexual scandal of abuse and cover-up.

STEINFELS: I think that's true, although I myself would argue that an awful lot of that does - it does relate to what the local churches do, that is the bishops, the conferences of bishops in regions; it does have a lot to do with one important papal power, which is the selection of bishops to begin with.

But I don't think the pope, any pope, is going to kind of act as the final investigator and enforcer of what probably has to be done nation by nation, country by country, maybe even dioceses and archdioceses by archdioceses.

CONAN: And that - we keep hearing about the unified hierarchy of the church, but when you hear, for example, just I guess yesterday, the Diocese of Los Angeles coming to a $10 million settlement with some new lawsuits, this is done very locally.

STEINFELS: It is done locally, but, you know, there are these larger issues that transcend the local cases. One I just mentioned is the selection of bishops. Another one is the overall issue of the role of women, women in the church, women in society. This is something which in different ways is occurring throughout the world on every continent. So that's not just a North American or European issue. It's a worldwide issue, and that's one where the leadership of the pope could be very important, although again, it's going to have to be implemented whatever direction the church takes will be implemented locally.

CONAN: And there are of course numbers of American nuns and nuns elsewhere in the world who feel that they are being - well, getting ready for a purge almost.

STEINFELS: Yeah, I think this has been one of the - certainly for the United States, I don't think other nations are as sensitive to this particular, these recent actions that seem to be directed particularly at the orders of women religious in the United States.

Now, that - the fact that Vatican offices took that up and took that up in the way they took that up is an example of the kind of thing that a pope might deal with in terms of what's been much discussed, the reform of the Vatican offices or the curia.

CONAN: Well, it looks like we have movement there in St. Peter's Square on the balcony. So Peter Steinfels, thank you very much for your time today.

STEINFELS: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's go now to the square.

CARDINAL JEAN-LOUIS TAURAN: (Through translation) I announce to a great joy: We have a pope.

(APPLAUSE)

TAURAN: The Most Eminent and Reverend Lord Jorge Mario, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church Bergoglio, who has chosen the name for himself Franciscus.

CONAN: The announcement we've all been waiting for. We have a pope. Of course the translation from the Latin. The cardinal made the announcement from the balcony in his red robes. The next figure we expect to see is in white ropes, the new pope, identified as Franciscus is his new name, and Sylvia Poggioli, as we await his appearance, what do we know about him?

POGGIOLI: Well, first of all, he's - this is the first Latin American pope. Jorge Mario Bergoglio is from Argentina, and he was a rival to Benedict in the last conclave in 2005. This is a really surprising choice, and I'm - you know, this was - he was not considered among the frontrunners at all.

He was not on the radar screen at all. He was - he's the son of Italian immigrants. And he made a name for himself also, he was not - from my - if I remember correctly, not connected in any way with the military junta in Argentina. And we're going to have to do some homework on this because we are not - we were not prepared for Bergoglio, frankly, at all.

CONAN: So we - we'll find out more about him as we move along. In the meantime, there is a platform being prepared now, a flag being draped there across the balcony, don't know quite what it says, but it is bunting of joy, and it is an enormous - I see, it's got the - it's an enormous, well, blanket is probably too fine - not the right word for it, but it has the papal seal on it and an enormous white square. It is now being draped from the balcony, presumably in anticipation that the new pope will be emerging and addressing the crowd there at St. Peter's Square, the crowd from around the world.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina, as Sylvia Poggioli was telling us, has taken the name Franciscus. Sylvia, do we know whether he's got a numeral after that?

POGGIOLI: I heard just Franciscus. I did not hear - you know what? I don't think I've ever heard of a pope named Franciscus. If there was, it certainly hasn't been in modern history. So - and now we're waiting to hear, to see him and hear him. And this is really very surprising.

CONAN: There are men in business suits clearing the way and getting the logistical operations ready, setting up microphones and whatnot, scurrying around there on the balcony and getting ready for this - well, it's got to be an enormous moment in this man's life as he accepts, well, one of the most revered offices on the planet.

POGGIOLI: What we can say - you asked me about the name. Certainly you know St. Francis is - if it's related to St. Francis, the name certainly - the connection is poverty and humility. And so that already is a sign of, you know, the image he wants to give of himself. So he was the runner-up in the last conclave, and he's said - he's an accomplished intellectual. He studied theology in Germany. We're going to have another theologian here.

And he's also known for personal simplicity and - but believe me, this is - he was just nowhere on the list of the first 10 or 15 names that we were hearing in the last few days.

CONAN: The great red curtain on the balcony has now been closed, so we will not see any more men in suits scurrying around and presumably so it can be opened to great dramatic effect in just a moment when the new pope emerges. Franciscus will we call him from now on, and he will address the crowd there in Vatican City in Rome and around the world via television and radio.

And Sylvia Poggioli, do we know - well, he finished second last time. How do we know that? Aren't those...

POGGIOLI: You're right. There have been some anonymous leaks after that conclave. There was a cardinal who apparently wrote a diary, which was distributed or published by an Italian journalist, I believe, and he dropped all those - that information there and that Bergoglio had actually finished behind - we were surprised because we had thought the main rival to Ratzinger in that conclave was the Italian, the Milan Archbishop Carlo Maria Martini, who was sort of the favorite of the liberals, of the progressives.

But now it turns out that it was Bergoglio. He is 76 years old. His father was an Italian immigrant from the region around Turin, and he is a Jesuit. He entered the Society of Jesus and studied for the priesthood, and we'll know more...

CONAN: We'll know more shortly. His name is Franciscus. NPR's senior European correspondent, Sylvia Poggioli, with us in Rome. Stay with us. We will hear the new pope's first words on TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. The more than a billion Roman Catholics around the world have a new leader today. Just over a month after Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, the cardinal today announced we have a pope. Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the first pontiff not to be from Europe, of course the first pontiff from the Americans, from Argentina, as we said. Now he's taken the name Pope Francisco.

We expect him to emerge shortly onto the balcony outside the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican there in Rome, and to make his first remarks as the new leader of the Catholic Church. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is with us from Rome, and Sylvia, you were talking about the surprise of the election of this 76-year-old cleric from Argentina. Well, part of it is from Argentina, the New World, as they still refer to it in Rome.

POGGIOLI: Well, this potentially really, really shifts the axis of the Catholic Church to some extent, as I was saying before. Benedict was seen as very focused very much on - here we see him now. We've just now seen him. He is dressed in white. We see these images now from the Vatican TV. He is about to appear. Now we're back at the balcony.

But as I said, this could really shift the focus of the church to Latin America, which is where 40 percent of the world's Catholics now live, and two-thirds of the world's Catholics are outside of Europe. And so this is really - this is a historical day.

CONAN: And the images Sylvia was just mentioning, these are inside the Sistine Chapel. He's not yet on the balcony. This is I guess the new pope addressing some of his former colleagues, the cardinals, and I guess addressing also, as well, the members of his new - of his curia now, the people who administrate the Catholic Church from Vatican City and people who will be of course directly affected by his decisions.

We're hearing cheers there from St. Peter's Square as we get ready to greet the new pope in Rome on a cold night where there's been a lot of rain, of course the square lit up with tremendous lights. And we're hearing cheers. Let's listen.

(APPLAUSE)

CONAN: And the new pope has just stepped out onto the balcony and is blessing the crowd.

(APPLAUSE)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: As we listen to the fanfare, we see Pope Francis for the first time, a bespectacled man wearing the white vestments of the pope and of course the cape and a crucifix, a silver crucifix, prominently displayed on his chest, listening to the adulation of the crowd there in St. Peter's Square.

(APPLAUSE)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: And we're learning a little bit more about this new pope as we await his first words. He studied at the Theological Faculty of San Miguel, received a licentiate in philosophy, born December 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires. Let's listen to him.

POPE FRANCIS I: (Through translation) Brothers and sisters, good evening.

(APPLAUSE)

I: (Through translation) You know that the duty of the conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. My fellow cardinals went and found one all the way at the end of the world, but here we are. Thank you for your warm acceptance. The community of Rome to its bishop, thank you. First of all, I'd like to offer a prayer for our eminent Bishop Benedict XVI. Let us all pray together for him. May the lord bless him, and may the Madonna look after him.

(Through translation) Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. May your kingdom come, may your God - will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

(Through translation) Hail Mary, full of grace, the lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death. Amen. Glory to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning and may it be always throughout all the centuries, amen.

(Through translation) And let's begin now this voyage, bishop and people, people and bishop, the Church of Rome, which is the one that precedes all the others, a passage with brotherhood, love and mutual trust. Let's pray always for each other. Let's pray for the whole world. May there be a great brotherhood. I wish that this voyage with the church that we begin today, he will become my cardinal vicar. May it be successful in spreading the Gospel in this wonderful city.

(APPLAUSE)

I: (Through translation) And now I would like to give a blessing, but first do me a favor. Before the bishop blesses the people, I would like you to pray the lord for the bishop who is about to bless his people. Let us pray silently in this prayer for me.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through translation) The Holy Father Francis to all the faithful present and to all those who receive his blessing by way of radio, TV and all the new technologies, offers the plenary indulgence of the church. We pray to almighty God, may he long help the pope in guiding the church and to give peace and unity to the church throughout the world.

(APPLAUSE)

I: (Through translator) Now, this is a blessing of you all and the whole world, to all men and women of good faith. Holy Apostle Peter and Paul, in whose authority and power we confide, may they intercede with us before God. Amen. With the prayers and merits of the Eternal Virgin, Blessed John the Baptist, and the Blessed Saints Peter and Paul and all the saints, may he pity us, and with all our sins forgiven, may Jesus Christ lead us to eternal life, indulgence, forgiveness and the remission of all sins, an ever-penitent heart, in the Holy Spirit.

May a pitying God give all his perseverance to you and blessing. In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, may it descend upon us and remain always.

CONAN: The former Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, speaking his first words to the crowd outside the Vatican. He said his colleagues had been given the task of providing a new bishop to Rome, and they had gone to the ends of the world to find one, referring to his position as an Argentine cardinal.

He then spoke in Latin to the crowd and read out a prayer from a grand book held out in front of him, and now is standing and watching as the crowd continues to react to his election.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, coming to you from NPR News.

Sylvia Poggioli joins us from Rome, NPR's senior European correspondent. Sylvia, as you listened, what did you hear?

POGGIOLI: Well, I think what I hear is he's from - he's definitely a very - he's conservative on the - most of the dogmatic issues of the Catholic Church, but he comes with the, I think - he's going to be very much a proponent, a sponsor of the decentralization. I think he comes with a message from local churches.

There's been this growing frustration of bishops and cardinals all over the world of the centralization of the Vatican, of the Curia, and how there's been very little communication. Even Benedict himself did not really meet at length with the cardinals.

I think he's going to probably be a, really, a proponent for more dialogue with the bishops. He spoke of this journey of the bishop with the people, and the people with the bishop. He certainly has a - his reputation is one of great humility, and he's speaking again now.

I: (Through translator) Brothers and sisters...

POGGIOLI: And he's...

I: (Through translator) ...I leave you. Thank you so much for the warm welcome. Pray for me. And we'll see each other soon. Tomorrow, I want to go pray to the Madonna. And I want to wish to all of Rome good night and good rest.

CONAN: And one more wave to the crowd before Pope Francis, as he is now, steps away from the edge of the balcony there and moves back into the Vatican. Sylvia, you were saying?

POGGIOLI: I think he - he also - the image he gives - he gave in the few minutes there were one of great humility, simple words, very direct, talking to the people. This - I remember, in some ways, Karol Wojtyla, who then became John Paul II, had this very simple, direct way of talking, very charming way of talking directly to the Romans, because you forget - don't forget, one of the titles of the pontiff is bishop of Rome.

And also, he reminds me a lot of the pope who lasted only 30 days, John Paul I, Don Albino Luciani, who also had a really, very good, popular touch with the people. We'll have to see. But the first step - the impact is certainly one of not of a Vatican insider. That's for sure. He doesn't have that look of - that they have here. I don't know how to say it. He has - there's something fresh about him. Let's hope it comes out that way.

CONAN: The election of a 76-year-old man to the office of pope may cause some to think that he's being selected as a placeholder, a sort of compromise candidate until, obviously, somebody new is picked very soon, relatively soon. Of course, I think the last time that happened, John XXIII was quite an elderly man when he was elected, and it was a long time he was in office, and made a lot of changes.

POGGIOLI: Absolutely, absolutely. He looked pretty good, though. He may be 76, but he looked pretty good. He's tall. He's erect. I've seen - yesterday, when we saw a lot of the - all the cardinals, the under-80 cardinals in procession, going into the Sistine Chapel. There were several who really didn't look like they could - they would have been able to handle this task. So he - we'll see. He looks pretty good. He certainly looks - he's two years younger than what Ratzinger was when he became pope. But he looks, to me, in - he looks stronger than Ratzinger did then.

CONAN: And he's - he is said to specialize in pastoral work. What do we take from that?

POGGIOLI: Well, that's something that, you know, the cardinals were looking for. They were looking for what they call, you know, an evangelizer, somebody who takes the message out, who's had an experience as a pastor in diocese. That also brings with it, you know, a certain amount of management abilities, which Ratzinger did not have - which Pope Benedict XVI did not have, and - nor did John Paul II. So this is - he certainly brings some of the key abilities that many of the cardinals from outside of Rome were looking for in their selection.

CONAN: NPR senior European correspondent Sylvia Poggioli, with us from Rome. When we come back after a short break, we'll find out what this may mean for the Catholic Church in South America. The election of the first South American pope. We'll also talk more about what it means, or what it might mean for Catholics in the United States. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Earlier today, the College of Cardinals - the Roman Catholic College of Cardinals - on the fifth ballot, elected a new pope. The former Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, who has taken name - now the name of Pope Francis. Joining us is Otto Maduro, scholar of Latin America and religion. He's with us from his home in New Jersey. Good to have you with us today. Mr. Maduro, are you there?

OTTO MADURO: Yes, I'm here.

CONAN: OK.

MADURO: Hello.

CONAN: Nice to have you on the air with us. And what do you make of this selection of a South American pope?

MADURO: It's a real important shock. Many of us in Latin America have had, for years, of course, the hope that a Latin American would become a pope. We also know that that doesn't guarantee absolutely anything, because there are as many or more conservative bishops, archbishops and cardinals among our clergy as you can find anywhere else. However, it's still a big surprise to have a Latin American archbishop being elected as pope.

CONAN: And what do you know of his history?

MADURO: Well, I know that he was the provincial of the Jesuit Order in Argentina from, I think, 1973 to 1979. He was archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998 until now. He was made a cardinal in 2001, and he has been, all through, a very staunch conservative in the church. He has - he stood basically by the right-wing military dictatorships in the '70s when he was the provincial of the Jesuits, and he had pretty conservative positions throughout his tenure until now as archbishop of Argentina, of Buenos Aires.

CONAN: You said that he stood - the church stood by the generals who ran Argentina for a while and, of course, that involved the Dirty War, as well. Was the church, in any way, implicated in any of those crimes?

MADURO: Yes. Unfortunately, that's a standing accusation against the leadership of the church in Argentina, that so many of the bishops were directly or indirect accomplices of the Dirty War in Argentina, and there are several investigations going on, including those moved by relatives of the disappeared during the Dirty War - many of whom are, of course, themselves, Roman Catholic activists.

CONAN: Yet he is also going to have to be, of course, identified with a church that, unlike many other places in the world, is continuing to grow and develop the emerging market, if you will, of the Catholic Church.

MADURO: Say that again. Excuse me. I didn't...

CONAN: He will, of course, be identified with the growing market of the Catholic Church, with South America, where, unlike many other places...

MADURO: Yes. Yes. Yes, he is.

CONAN: ...in the world, the church is blooming.

MADURO: Yeah. To his benefit, I should say, that even accusations have flown since long before his name was even mentioned as a possible pope. Regarding his ties with the dictatorship, those ties have never been clear or proven, but it's been repeatedly pointed out that he was, if you wish, consistently silent about the violations of human rights in Argentina throughout the entire period of the military dictatorship.

CONAN: Well, thank you very much. And I know there must be tremendous excitement, as you say. People will have questions on all sides, but nevertheless, the first South American pope: something to celebrate.

MADURO: Yes. And it's a really important thing, a really important change.

CONAN: Otto Maduro, thank you very much for your time.

MADURO: You're welcome.

CONAN: Otto Maduro, scholar of Latin America and religion, joined us on the phone from his home in New Jersey. Here with us in Studio 3A is NPR's religion correspondent, John Burnett. And John, well, as given the possible choices, all of them appointed cardinals by the previous two popes, I don't think Americans could possibly expect anybody who is anything other than a conservative to be named by this particular group of cardinals. So what's likely to be the reaction, nevertheless, to a fresh voice from a fresh place in the world?

BURNETT: I think it depends on who you ask, which group of Catholics in the United States. Certainly, among Hispanics in this country - who are a surging segment of the Catholic Church here because of immigration and birth - this is really going to be an energizing candidate. Granted, there are not terribly too many Argentine immigrants here. But still, to have a pope from this hemisphere is tremendously exciting.

But, as you said, he's a staunch conservative on the teachings of the church, a very conservative clergy. And so he has come out opposing abortion, opposing same-sex marriage, opposing gay adoption, opposing contraception. So one would not - well, it's hard to say what to expect. But his - at least if you look at his past, it may not be a great change.

CONAN: Is there a history? Again, these people's opinions are well-known through their long services - bishops and cardinals and priests. But is there a history to suggest - as some say it happens sometimes with Supreme Court appointees - that once in office in this lifetime appointment, that their views shift or mature?

BURNETT: Well, that's true, because, I mean, as we saw Cardinal Ratzinger, who was, you know, called God's Rottweiler to begin with, and everyone feared that he was going to be the great enforcer. And it turned out that he was more moderate in office than we expected. So it is very hard to see how these clerics will actually develop as a leader of a billion of the world's Catholics.

CONAN: And it's - one thing that has become part of the papal job since John Paul II, really, is travel. This was an occasional thing. Paul VI would come to - I remember covering him in Yankee Stadium some years ago. But John Paul II really took this to a new level. And cardinal - Pope Benedict XVI, I think one of the things that exhausted him, in the end, was the amount of travel that he was expected to do.

BURNETT: Well - and plus, the symbolism of having an Argentine pope, you know, making such a huge statement, because he is from the developing world, from the Third World, I guess one would expect, one would hope, that he takes that as one of his missions, to represent also the rest of the Southern Hemisphere, you know, to travel to African and to Asia and throughout Latin America, that, you know, he really is a bridge to these surging populations of Catholics in the rest of the world.

CONAN: In the rest of the world. We mentioned the burgeoning market of - if you will, of South America. Another of the church's most important emerging markets is in Africa. Joining us now is NPR correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. She's with us from - by Skype. Ofeibea, always good to speak with you.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings from Dakar, Senegal, where, in fact, one of the 11 African cardinals come from. Of course, this is a Muslim country, but also quite a few Catholics. And, yes, what's your question, Neal?

CONAN: I was going to ask: How is this is going to be received there amongst, not just the Catholics, but others in Africa: a non-European pope, a South American.

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, Neal, many, many people that I've spoken to all over the continent had hoped for an African pope, but they'll be pleased that the new pope comes from Latin America, comes from the developing world, and especially has lived among the poor and knows the priorities of the poor and the developing world. The few people I have spoken to on the way to the cathedral here have said this is very good news. It's been, what, about 1,000 years since - that the Catholic Church has had a European as its head.

Maybe it's time for new priorities, because, of course, this is a continent where Catholicism is growing the fastest. And many people I've spoken to from the clergy and laypeople are saying that maybe the Vatican needs to focus a little more on the countries and the regions where they are getting more and more Catholics, rather than in the U.S. and Europe, where Catholicism has been - or at least the sizes of congregations have been dwindling.

CONAN: And as you talk about that, the symbolism of his name, Pope Francis, Saint Francis, again, associated with the poor.

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed, Francis of Assisi. And I think that's going to touch many Africans, especially having seen the pope, his first public appearance, appearing on the balcony at the Vatican and asking the crowd to pray for him whilst he blessed them. I think his simplicity, his quietness, his apparent humility is going to go down very well in Africa. The pomp and ceremony at the Vatican are all well and good, but they do want a pope who knows how they feel, who will be able to understand what they feel their pressures, daily pressures and others are, and one who will keep coming to Africa to talk to them.

CONAN: And, of course, there are important symbols. There are important, well, communication skills. But there's politics, too, Ofeibea. And it'll be interesting to see how the new pope deals with the decentralism that, well, a lot of cardinals want to have more say in their own little turf.

QUIST-ARCTON: And I think it's not just the cardinals, the bishops, the archbishops and the clergy. I think also a lot of Africans. You know, Catholic churches now in Africa are far more localized. They have masses not in Latin or the European colonial languages, but in the local languages. They sing songs in local languages. There's a - very much an African feel. And one bishop said to me, just after Pope Benedict VXI announced his resignation, that he had said that Africa is really the lungs of the church, the lungs of the world.

So whoever comes next must listen to the African voice. So a pope who will be talking to Africa, but also listening to Africa, I think is hugely important to the Catholic congregation on this continent.

CONAN: And have you had a chance to gather any reaction just in a few minutes since that we found out who the new pope is?

QUIST-ARCTON: (unintelligible) with huge joy, generally because there is a pope, and that a pope was elected so quickly. A lot of people say this is a tough job, tough, tough, tough job trying to lead the Catholic Church with all its challenges in Africa, outside of Africa. So they wish him well. They bless him, and they welcome him into the community.

CONAN: That was a very moving moment you spoke of when he asked the crowd there, as the bishop of Rome, to pray for him, and the entire vast multitude went silent as he bent over in prayer and prayed with him, and then came back, of course, with the traditional prayers, the Our Father.

QUIST-ARCTON: And I'm sure you'll find, Neal, that that wasn't just in St. Peter's Square, but repeated all over the world where Catholics were congregating to watch the announcement and find out who their new pope would be. I'm sure many, many Catholics here in Africa were also holding their breaths and praying, praying for their church and for their new pope.

CONAN: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR's correspondent with us from Dakar, in Senegal. Thank you so much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

CONAN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Religion correspondent, John Burnett, still with us here in Studio 3A.

BURNETT: Yeah. I just wanted to follow up on what Ofeibea had said. One of the first things that the new pope said was that you have found one at the end of the world - self-identifying as an outsider, as someone who comes from a continent very distance from the origins of the church and from the traditional power centers. And so it's going to be so interesting to see if he continues this theme of really representing those in the church who, you know, who have not been close to the United States and Rome.

CONAN: And it's interesting, of course, it's unusual to hear jokes in Latin.

(LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: There are those of us who have forgotten our high school learning. Yes.

CONAN: It is not something that is regarded as a dead language there in the Vatican, and it is going to be - first impressions matter. And I think we've tried to read a lot into a brief statement and a brief appearance by the pope, and the little we know and the more that we're learning about his training and his background and what his politics are and what he stands for. But this is going to be - every step he takes for the next few weeks is going to be very vividly recorded in the imagination, not just in Catholics, but there are others who have great interest in his leadership.

BURNETT: He also spoke very good Italian. So that clearly was a priority.

CONAN: Well, Italian - he is from Italian heritage, we're told. With the name of Bergoglio, I guess that makes sense. There are, of course, large numbers of Italian immigrants who moved to Argentina. And from the background there and we'll have to find out more about his background in terms of what he did during the reign of the generals there in Argentina, which was a dark period in that country's history. But there is got to be a celebration.

South America, John, as you well know, a place that is dynamic at this moment, the great burgeoning economy of Brazil. Argentina, not doing so well at the moment, but Brazil is doing very well, indeed.

BURNETT: Yeah. It's also a place where there's a tremendous spiritual war going on for the souls of the faithful. The evangelical and the Pentecostal churches are making huge in-roads. They are siphoning off lots of Catholics very aggressively with huge, huge congregations. This is happening in, certainly, in Brazil, but really throughout the continent, also. So, you know, whether he can stem that flow, he can stop the leak of, you know, so many of Catholics to other faiths is going to be one of his challenges.

CONAN: Interesting that the previous pope seemed to be concerned with the growing secularization - that, of course, a European concern and an American concern - as congregations dwindle in those parts of the Catholic world. It is a battle, as you say, in South America, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton telling us that the church is going fastest in Africa.

BURNETT: Yeah. And it really - and South Americans also identifying in a way that Americans are in the non category, more and more South Americas - and particularly in modernizing countries like Brazil and Argentina - that are saying, well, we don't have a religious affiliation now. We're floating in the culture. So how do you grab them?

CONAN: NPR religion correspondent John Burnett, we'll hope to hear more from you on this as day's going on. Thank you very much for your time today.

BURNETT: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: John Burnett joined us here in Studio 3A. It was, well, just about an hour and 50 minutes ago, white smoke emerged from the Sistine Chapel. It was about, well, maybe 40 minutes ago that we finally heard from the new pope, the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

I: (Through translator) Brothers and sisters, I leave you. Thank you so much for the warm welcome. Pray for me, and we'll see each other soon. Tomorrow I want to go pray to the Madonna. And I want to wish to all of Rome goodnight and good rest.

CONAN: Pope Francis, speaking at St. Peter's Square. More about the new pope and what he stands for throughout the day on NPR News. Stay with us. It's THE TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

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