An historic moment: white smoke and a new pope

CBC News reporter Steven D'Souza describes the moment the papal conclave emerged with its choice at the Vatican on Wednesday.
People react after white smoke billowed from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel indicating that a new pope has been elected in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Wednesday. (Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press)

Habemus Papum - "We have a Pope"

The cobblestones were glistening and slick after days of wind and rain.

The square was a sea of multi-coloured umbrellas.

Flags of nations from Argentina to Hungary and the U.S. waved, then sagged, then disappeared as the minutes, then hours, passed waiting for the smoke to appear.

I stood at the edge of the square just outside the crowd. My camera crew had come as far as they were allowed to go by Vatican security, standing on the other side of a gate just outside the Square.

Just to get into St. Peter’s Square required passing dozens of armed police, then a wave of a metal detector. Police dogs sniffed around. This was history in the making and the authorities were going to make sure it was as safe as possible.

The crowd was a mixture of ages, races, tourists, pilgrims and Romans alike.

Some sang, others prayed

A constant rain and grey skies tempered their excitement. But to borrow a well-used phrase, it did little to dampen their spirits. In some corners there were songs, others prayers, all staring up at a small copper smoke stack on the roof of the Sistine Chapel.

Simple, unassuming, all together at odds with its ornate surroundings, few could even see the stack clearly. Most focused their gaze on the large screens dotting the square.

After a few hours, it came.

The smoke was grey at first. A cry came out from the crowd. Fumata Bianca!

On cue, the bells of St. Peter’s began to ring, echoing through the square.

A huge cheer went up from the crowd. This was the moment they had been waiting for.

But I wasn’t celebrating. The window for us to broadcast from the square had just closed so I was left with only one option: the phone.

For the next hour, I juggled three phones while trying to call Toronto, recording updates for radio and talking to people in the square about what was going to happen.

Meanwhile all around me, people rushed to St. Peter’s. On bicycles and by foot, they came.

Teenage girls chatting on their phones to find their friends, fathers pulling their young children behind them, even a group of nuns sprinting at full speed.

The crowd went wild

When the moment came and Pope Francis was announced, the crowd went wild.

Many in the square were having trouble getting through on their cellphones, possibly due to a system overloaded by people frantic to spread the news.

As the name was announced, a hush came over the crowd. Then they listened as Cardinal Bergoglio’s name was read, then his new name: Pope Francis.

"Francesco, Franceso!!" the chants began and spread like wildfire through the crowd.

An old man beside me smoked a cigar and shrugged his shoulders to show mild approval of the choice.

On the other side, a woman clasped a rosary and stared up at heaven with a smile of serenity.

Most looked puzzled at one another, not immediately recognizing the name.

When Pope Francis emerged, I had already filed another radio report, re-dialed Toronto a half dozen times and tried, without success, to send more tweets.

With technology working against me, I eventually realized it was all for naught and decided to take the moment in.

As Pope Francis stepped onto the balcony, I joined the masses, held up my smartphone and recorded this historic moment:

Pope Francis opened with a Buona Sera and cracked a joke. I didn’t understand what it was but laughter rippled through the crowd.

Any tension about how they would receive this new Pope was instantly relieved and the crowd was at ease.

He then led the assembled crowd, which numbered in the tens of thousands, in prayer.

It was a moment that was captured by thousands of smart phones and forever imprinted on the hearts of those who were there.

I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of numerous stories that made news, but tonight was my first chance to take part in an event that truly made history.