Americans join crowd in cheering selection of Pope Francis

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 9:34 p.m.

VATICAN CITY — For hours, seminarian Michael Conway stood with thousands under a sea of umbrellas in St. Peter's Square, an American flag in one hand and a camera around his neck.

When white smoke billowed from a rust-colored chimney on the Sistine Chapel's terra-cotta roof, the tall 32-year-old from Overbrook in Pittsburgh's South Hills shouted, “No way! We have a pope!”

The crowd cheered and howled its joy and disbelief that the College of Cardinals had chosen a pope in just five votes. As Basilica church bells pealed, more people pressed into the square, surging forward in a cheering, clapping crush to cries of “Viva il Papa!”

“If it's an American, I'm getting on your shoulders!” a fellow seminarian at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian College shouted to Conway.

“If it's an American, I'm going to faint!” Conway shouted back.

Around him, more cries: “Woo hoo, we have a pope! Oh my God, we have a pope!”

“Wow, I wonder who it is?” Conway muttered. “I can't believe I'm here! Look where I am!”

He pointed excitedly up to the red-curtained window that the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church would soon step through to address the world.

The rain stopped. The umbrellas came down. More cheers of “Viva il Papa!” went up.

Many in the mass of bodies, including Conway, sang the “Salve Regina” hymn.

And still more cheers — for the Vatican band, for the Italian carabinieri police band.

More than an hour passed before a proto-deacon cardinal stepped onto the Sistine Chapel's balcony and declared, “Habemus Papum” — to the American seminarians' shouts of “We have a pope!”

In Italian, the church official pronounced Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, as the new pope.

First, a collective gasp — and then voices in the crowd asked, “Who's that? Who is that?”

“He's an Argentine,” came the answer from all around.

Learning that the new pope would take the name Francis, the crowd chanted its Italian version: “Francesco! Francesco!”

Finally, Pope Francis stepped into the open — joined discreetly on side balconies by the red-cloaked cardinals who had elected him — to thunderous applause and cheers of “Viva il Papa!” and “Francesco!”

As he spoke, those in the crowd who knew Italian translated for everyone else.

The pope told the crowd that the cardinals had been tasked with finding a bishop of Rome. “And it seems that they went almost to the end of the world to find him,” he said to laughter from his audience.

Still more cheers, clapping and chants as the first Jesuit and first non-European to be chosen as pope asked the mass below in St. Peter's Square to pray for him.

“He's going to be a pastoral pope,” said a man's voice from somewhere in the crowd.

“He's an American, just a little bit more south than we thought,” said Conway.

“This whole thing is amazing,” he said, smiling, “He is such a man of prayer, and that is what we needed. Praise God, it is going to be fun.”

Megan Pilsner waited all day in the rain in St. Peter's Square with three other students from Duquesne University's Rome campus. “Oh, this gives me chills,” said Pilsner, 20, of Hershey as black smoke billowed from the chimney earlier in the day.

Standing with Pilsner under an umbrella, Lauryn Clouden, 20, of Allentown said she wanted a pope “who is going to restore the reputation of the church that was lost over the past two years.”

Fellow student Concetta Staltari, 19, of McCandless said, “it would be a sin to miss this.” She was hoping for “a more progressive pope than the one we just had.”

The three students stood in the second row of conclave watchers as the white smoke finally puffed from the chimney.

“It was incredible! I never thought today would be the day,” Staltari said as she walked from the square. “To see black and white smoke in the same day, it was a shock, a thrill!”

“When we saw the white smoke, there were chills of excitement, goose bumps,” said Josh Suhey, 20, a Duquesne student from Youngstown, Ohio. “Then hundreds and hundreds of people surged into the square. ‘Epic' is probably a good word for it.”

Perhaps predictably, as the crowd surged through the square's colonnades to exit, a man's voice began singing, “Don't cry for me, Argentina!”

Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent.Email her at

More Betsy Hiel
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.


Show commenting policy