How Pope Francis Was Selected


PHOTO: Catholic Church (England and Wales)
PHOTO: Catholic Church (England and Wales)

Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope, was chosen by the College of Cardinals* on March 13, 2013. To select a new pope, the Cardinals formed a conclave**, following a tradition that has been in place for about 1000 years. A new pope was needed when Pope Benedict XVI resigned after serving for almost eight years. Benedict was the first pope to resign in 598 years.

Inside the Sistine Chapel, paper ballots are given to the cardinals, who then write down their choice for pope. If a cardinal receives two-thirds of the vote, he will become the new pope. The public knows there is a new pope when white smoke comes out of the Chapel’s chimney. The cardinals make the smoke by burning the ballots. If the pope hasn’t been chosen they add a chemical to the smoke to make it black, but if smoke comes out white, then people know that the church has a new pope. Within an hour of being chosen, the new pope traditionally appears in public, speaks briefly and says a prayer.

The New York Times reported Cardinal Tim Dolan of New York saying, “I think it’s wonderful that Pope Francis is a Jesuit, with their rich history in the Church, and I think it’s equally wonderful that he comes from Argentina.”

The election of the pope is getting faster in modern times. For example Pope Francis was selected in two days, however, in the 16th century it took 111 days to select Pope Pius IV. For centuries, the Church’s top job has gone to Europeans, even though about 480 million of the world’s 1.2 billion (four out of 10) Catholics live in Latin America.

In the Harvard Gazette, Francis Schussler Fiorenza of the Harvard Divinity School said, “It’s really showing how the axis (center) of Christianity is shifting from Europe to the Third World, and that the numbers of Christians are the most numerous in Spanish-speaking, Portuguese-speaking countries, so it’s a time of symbolizing the importance of that for the church.”

*Cardinal – a senior official of the Catholic Church. The College of Cardinals refers to all of the cardinals.

**Conclave – a private meeting held by cardinals in order to choose a pope.

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