VATICAN CITY -- On the streets in Buenos Aires, the stories about the cardinal who would become the first pope from the Americas often include a very ordinary backdrop: the city bus during rush hour.
Tales are traded about chatting with Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio as he squeezed in with others for the commute to work. They sometimes talked about church affairs. Other times it could be about what he planned to cook for dinner in the simple downtown apartment he chose over an opulent church estate. Or perhaps it was a mention of his affection for the tango, which he said he loved as a youth despite having one lung removed following an infection.
On the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica just after a rain shower Wednesday -- wearing unadorned white robes -- the new Pope Francis also appeared to strike the same tone of simplicity and pastoral humility for a church desperate to move past the tarnished era of abuse scandals and internal Vatican upheavals.
While the new pontiff is not without some political baggage -- including questions over his role during a military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s -- the selection of the 76-year-old Bergoglio reflected a series of history-making decisions by fellow cardinals who seemed determined to offer a suggestion of renewal to a church under pressures on many fronts.
"He is a real voice for the voiceless and vulnerable," said Kim Daniels, director of Catholic Voices USA, a pro-church group. "That is the message."
Pope Francis -- the first from Latin America and the first from the Jesuit order -- bowed to the crowds in St. Peter's Square and asked for their blessing in a hint of the humble style he cultivated while trying to modernize Argentina's conservative Catholic church and move past a messy legacy of alleged complicity during the rule of the military junta from 1976 to 1983.
"Brothers and sisters, good evening," he said before making a reference to his roots in Latin America, which accounts for about 40 per cent of the world's Roman Catholics.
Francis, the son of middle-class Italian immigrants, came close to becoming Pope during the last conclave in 2005. He reportedly gained the second-highest vote total in several rounds of voting before he bowed out of the running before selection of Vatican insider Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI.
By returning to Bergoglio, the conclave confounded speculation it would turn to a younger candidate more attuned to younger elements in the church and with possibly more stamina for the rigours of the modern papacy with nearly nonstop obligations and frequent global travel. Pope Francis appears in good health, but his age and possible limitations from his single lung raise questions about whether he can face the demands of the position.
His overriding image, though, is built around his leaning toward austerity. The motto chosen for his archdiocese is "Miserando Atque Eligendo," or "Lowly but Chosen."
Even after he became Argentina's top church official in 2001, he never lived in the ornate church mansion where Pope John Paul II stayed when visiting the country, preferring a simple bed in a downtown building, warmed by a small stove on frigid weekends when the building turned off the heat.
He accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy and forgetting Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.
"Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony. Go out and interact with your brothers. Go out and share. Go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit," Bergoglio told Argentina's priests last year.
Bergoglio almost never granted media interviews, limiting himself to speeches from the pulpit, and was reluctant to contradict his critics, even when he knew their allegations against him were false, said Bergoglio's authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin.
Bergoglio's legacy as cardinal includes his efforts to repair the reputation of a church that lost many followers by failing to openly challenge Argentina's dictatorship. He also worked to recover the church's traditional political influence in society, but his outspoken criticism of President Cristina Fernandez couldn't stop her from imposing socially liberal measures, from gay marriage and adoption to free contraceptives for all.
-- The Associated Press
What's in a name? Hope for change
VATICAN CITY -- In choosing a name no other pope had ever taken, Pope Francis could be signalling he sees the need for change in the Roman Catholic Church.
The name recalls two of the church's most famous saints.
One is Francis of Assisi, the man from the Umbrian hill town who renounced a wealthy, dissolute lifestyle to found the Franciscan order of friars in 1209, embracing a life of poverty and simplicity and going out in the countryside to preach a message of joy and peace.
The other is Francis Xavier, a globe-trotting Spaniard who became one of Christianity's greatest missionaries and was a founding figure of the Jesuit order, of which the new Pope is a member.
Pope Francis didn't cite either of those famous men when he made his first public speech as pontiff on Wednesday night, but within an hour of his presentation to the world from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, his choice of name was being hailed as heralding what could be his priorities at the helm of a troubled church.
Umbria's bishops sent congratulations in a message noting the new Pope had taken up name of the saint of Assisi, one of Italy's patron saints who in his time sought to "renew the church."
-- The Associated Press