Greg Erlandson of Fort Wayne was like all of the other faithful standing Wednesday in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican — soaked by rain, and then full of excitement.
“It is great that, in this day and age, we still can be surprised,” Erlandson said of the election Wednesday of Pope Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina.
Many people speculating on who would be the next pope wrote off Bergoglio early because of his age, 76, said Erlandson, the president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor's publishing division in Huntington. He spoke by phone from near the Vatican, where he is covering the papal transition.
The election of a new pope follows the Feb. 28 resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, who said he lacked the strength to continue in the job.
Erlandson, who has been in Rome since Saturday, stepped into in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican about 4:30 p.m. Rome time on Wednesday, which was about 11:30 a.m. Fort Wayne time. He and thousands of others began assembling in the square to see what color of smoke came from the special chimney at the Sistine Chapel, where cardinals began voting Tuesday to elect a new pope.
The cardinals, the second highest-ranking clergy in the Catholic Church, typically vote twice in a morning session and twice in a late-afternoon session until one person receives the two-thirds majority needed to be elected pope.
At the end of each voting session, the counted ballots are burned in a furnace that sends smoke up the special chimney. Additives turn the smoke black for no decision or white for a successful election.
After a wait of more than two hours, Erlandson, the crowd and everyone monitoring the action by Vatican webcam had an answer.
“When the smoke first started to come out, it seemed gray, and then it turned a brilliant white,” he said.
The crowd, which he guesses had swelled to about 100,000 people, erupted in cheers.
The exuberance turned to anticipation and quiet about an hour later when the senior cardinal deacon appeared on the balcony at St. Peter's Basilica and, in Latin, announced the name of the new pope. The cardinal deacon made the announcement so abruptly, however, many people didn't quite understand the name, said Erlandson, who did hear it.
“It really is a great choice,” he said.
Pope Francis is a member of the Jesuit religious order, making this the first time a Jesuit has been pope, Erlandson said. He also has a “phenomenal reputation” for working with the poor.
“He's prayerful, he's humble,” he said, adding Francis used the word bishop to refer to himself rather than pope.
Erlandson also sees the new pope as one who will be out more among the people and who will lead by example. That would make him more like Pope John Paul II rather than Pope Benedict, the latter of whom Erlandson describes as more of an academic and thinker.
It did surprise Erlandson that cardinals elected an older pope. That means Pope Francis likely will serve a relatively short time in the job, he said.
But with the pope selected on only the fifth ballot, Erlandson said, it suggests he had a much higher level of support among the cardinals than media anticipated.