The Catholic Church has chosen a new pope.
White smoke billowed from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, meaning 115 cardinals in a papal conclave have elected a new leader for the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
The new pope is expected to appear on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica within an hour, after a church official announces "Habemus Papum" — "We have a pope" — and gives the name of the new pontiff in Latin.
“There is white smoke! We’ve all been waiting,” said Miguel H. Diaz, the first Hispanic U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican and a professor of faith and culture at the University of Dayton. “There is excitement, the anticipation of the moment.”
The church overcame deep divisions to select the 266th pope in a remarkably fast conclave. Elected on the fifth ballot, he was chosen in one of the fastest conclaves in years, remarkable given there was no clear front-runner going into the vote.
“This time because there wasn’t a funeral there was more time for the conversation about the next pope to occur,” said Diaz. “[The Italian cardinal] has the experience of interfaith, bringing people of different religions together. He headed a large diocese, in Venice. The Brazilian cardinal would be the first Latin American, he speaks various languages, he is from the largest Catholic country in the world. He also is of German background.”
The conclave was called after Pope Benedict XVI resigned last month, throwing the church into turmoil and exposing deep divisions among cardinals tasked with finding a manager to clean up a corrupt Vatican bureaucracy as well as a pastor who can revive Catholicism in a time of growing secularism.
Tens of thousands of people who braved cold rain to watch the smokestack atop the Sistine Chapel jumped in joy when white smoke poured out, many shouting "Habemus Papam!" or "We have a pope!" — as the bells of St. Peter's Basilica and churches across Rome tolled, signaling a pontiff had been chosen.
"I can't explain how happy I am right down," said Ben Canete, a 32-year-old Filipino, jumping up and down in excitement.
A winner must receive 77 votes, or two-thirds of the 115, to be named pope.
The conclave played out against the backdrop of the first papal resignation in 600 years and revelations of mismanagement, petty bickering, infighting and corruption in the Holy See bureaucracy. Those revelations, exposed by the leaks of papal documents last year, had divided the College of Cardinals into camps seeking a radical reform of the Holy See's governance and those defending the status quo.
The names mentioned most often as "papabile" — a cardinal who has the stuff of a pope — include Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, an intellect in the vein of Benedict but with a more outgoing personality, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian head of the Vatican's important bishops' office who is also scholarly but reserved like Benedict.
Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer is liked by the Vatican bureaucracy but not by all of his countrymen. And Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary has the backing of European cardinals who have twice elected him as head of the European bishops' conference.
On the more pastoral side is Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, the favorite of the Italian press, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the back-slapping, outgoing archbishop of New York who has admitted himself that his Italian is pretty bad — a drawback for a job that is conducted almost exclusively in the language.
Based on reporting from The Associated Press.