Archbishop Richard Smith
ROME – The Church has been given "a wondrous gift" in Pope Francis, says Archbishop Richard Smith.
Smith, who went to Rome to represent the Canadian Church in his role as president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he arrived in St. Peter's Square from Edmonton March 13 only 10 minutes before white smoke came billowing out of the smokestack from the Sistine Chapel.
"What an experience to be in the middle of that! It was unbelievable," he said in a telephone interview two days later. "The atmosphere was electric; everybody was cheering."
When Pope Francis came out on the loggia, "he won our hearts immediately."
Then, when the new pope asked the crowd to bless him so that he could bless the people, the loud cheering stopped immediately and fell into total silence, Smith said.
"It was a signal to all of us, not only that prayer will be the fuel for his Petrine ministry, but that prayer has to be the heart, the soul and the breath of every Catholic life."
The archbishop said "we're growing into a sense" of why the cardinals elected Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio. "What is shining forth is his simplicity and his humility which is instantly a challenge to all that the world would say is important in terms of materialism and in terms of power."
His choice of the name Francis "calls us to examine our own lives, our own relationship with the Church, to grow in communion. It calls us to be very close to the poor," Smith said.
Bergoglio's life in Argentina was a simple one, lived in solidarity with the poor, he said. Now as pope, his voice has a global reach, "reminding everyone, especially First World powerful nations, never to forget the poor."
Continued Smith: "I can see this being a very exciting pontificate," one in which the pope's pastoral leadership calls us to live the Gospel of love.
Smith said, while he has never met the new pope, they both stay at the same guesthouse when they are in Rome.
The morning after the election, the new pope returned to pick up his luggage, pay his bill and thank the cleaning staff for all their work during his many visits.
Smith said he later congratulated the guesthouse staff on being the recipients of the first papal visit of Pope Francis. "They had big smiles on their faces.
"It was a beautiful, beautiful gesture. They're so elated and so proud that he came to them first."
The more we see of the new pope, the more we understand why the cardinals chose him, he said. The fact that it only took them five ballots to choose Pope Francis "would mean that there was broad consensus around the choice from the very start."
The archbishop said he was taken by the large number of young people in the crowd at St. Peter's Square, the majority of whom he estimated to be of about university age.
"It is a wonderful sign of the vibrancy of the Church at its heart and looking forward to a hope-filled future."
Smith was to stay in Rome through the March 19 Mass of Inauguration in which Pope Francis will be installed as pope.