After a tense day and a half of waiting, the tell-tale white smoke poured from the chimney and the faithful streamed toward St. Peter's Square as bells pealed the news that a new pope had been chosen. Waving crosses, cheering "We have a pope!" and staring expectantly up at the balcony above St. Peter's, the thousands gathered to watch the first appearance of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the 265th pope.
The new pope was elected by a two-thirds majority, meaning he received at least 77 votes from the 115 members of the College of Cardinals. Once the vote was tallied, Ratzinger, the dean of the College of Cardinals, was asked if he accepted the position and then he changed into the signature white papal vestments. Because it was unclear which man would be chosen, a tailor was on hand with three custom-made vestments in various sizes to fit the new pope. Each one of the cardinals then approached the new pope and pledged their allegiance to him.
The smoke, which emerged at 5:50 p.m. local time, initially appeared black, but then was clearly white. The bells — which John Paul II had requested accompany the smoke in order to avoid confusion — began ringing 10 minutes later. Even before the name was revealed, the crowd had begun chanting "Viva il Papa!" ("Long live the pope!")
Italian, French, German and Mexican flags were seen waving in the crowd, which grew well beyond the 40,000 who began awaiting word on Monday, with officials estimating that more than 100,000 had crammed into St. Peter's and the surrounding streets.
The election, decided on the fourth ballot, is one of the shortest in the history of the selection process. The College of Cardinals began the highly secretive process of choosing the new pope on Monday, sending up black smoke at the end of the day to signal that the burned ballots did not yield a new leader of the world's more than 1 billion Roman Catholics.
Pope John Paul II, who died on April 2 at the age of 84 (see "Pope John Paul II Honored In Emotional Funeral, Buried Beneath Vatican"), appointed 113 of the 115 cardinals in the College of Cardinals, which some experts predicted would mean that his successor would have a similarly conservative mindset. John Paul II was elected in 1978 at the age of 58, making him one of the youngest popes in more than 130 years. His was the third-longest reign in papal history.
The conclave of 1939, which elected Pope Pius XII, was the only election this century that was quicker than this one, with only three ballots needed.
Senior Cardinal Deacon Jorge Medina Estevez made the announcement around 6:43 p.m. local time, announcing in Latin the name of the new pope and the name he has chosen, Benedict XVI. The new pope emerged moments later and raised his hands to the crowd, addressing them and paying homage to "the great Pope" John Paul II and announcing his selection to work "in the vineyard of the lord."
Just one day before his selection, Ratzinger, who turned 78 on Saturday and was born in Marktl Am Inn, Germany, on April 16, 1927, gave a sermon in which he mounted a defense of conservative church doctrine. Ratzinger, a close confidant of John Paul II who gave the homily at the pope's April 9 funeral, described the Catholic Church as a "little boat of Christian thought" tossed around by waves of "extreme" ideologies, including liberalism and radical individualism.