VATICAN CITY - As it turned out, there was a hidden candidate right there in front of us. This explains the rapidity of the conclave, which was almost as fast as the one that elected Joseph Ratzinger eight years ago.
When he took the floor last week during the pre-conclave General Congregation meetings, sources say he never went past the five minutes of allocated time. He spoke to his fellow cardinals with the heart of a Church that is capable of showing the face of God’s mercy.
The election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio -- the first Jesuit and first Latin American to ever become pope, as well as the first to take the name of Francis -- surprised many people. It seemed like the cardinals were looking for a young pope, but wound up electing one who is 76 years old. It had also seemed like they were going to choose a “governor” to reform the bureaucracy of the Roman Curia, yet they chose the cardinal furthest away from any of the careerism, games and Vatican intrigue.
The election of Francis is a sign that a page has been turned. In the recent history of the Church, it had never happened that the de facto "runner-up" of the previous conclave was elected. It was also unprecedented to witness a new pope appear for the first time on the balcony of St. Peter’s and, before even blessing the crowd, ask the faithful to pray and bless him first.
Jorge Bergoglio has denounced repeatedly in the last few years that the Church risks becoming self-referential: “If the Church remains closed in on itself, it will get old. And between a Church that is on a bumpy road or a Church that is ill because it is self-referential, I don’t have any doubt that I would prefer the first option.”
Soft touch, hard choices
Certainly, his appointment follows in the direction that emerged over the past few days, in the General Congregation sessions: a reform of the Curia, a better collegiality, avoiding a repetition of the scandals that have plagued the Church over the past few years. But also, even if it is easy to predict his steps in this way, the priority for all the cardinals was to elect a man of God, who was first of all, a man who would spread the Gospel.
Even the choice to appear on the balcony last night along with the Vicar of Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, and the persistent underlining of the connection between Bishop with the diocese of the Eternal City, is an important sign. The message of a pontiff who began his message by emphasizing the connection with the local churches -- like a pastor and his flock.
It’s not easy to make predictions on the future choices that the new Pope will make. Who will he bring in as Secretary of State, how will he intend to confront the theme of financial transparency and the problems of IOR, the Vatican bank, what decisions will he make after he reads, painfully, the pages of the dossier of the investigation into the leaking of papal documents?
But ever since his name and humble style were presented Wednesday evening to the faithful, the Church, and the world, it was evident to see that this institution, with 2,000 years of history on it’s shoulders, still has a face that knows how to change -- and surprise.
A Jesuit who takes the Franciscan name, chooses to call himself after the great Italian Saint, the great reformer of the radicalism of the Gospel? It’s a sign of hope and an invitation for the whole Church to change with him.