LOOP — The white smoke billowed and a new pope — Francis I — was chosen Wednesday, leaving many Chicago Catholics hopeful.
Unity was the word of the day at St. Peter's church downtown as attendees said a prayer for Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, the 266th pope and first non-European pontiff in more than 1,200 years.
The 76-year-old former archbishop of Buenos Aires made his first appearance as pope Wednesday to cheers from the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
“I would like to thank you for your embrace,” said the new pope from the balcony on St. Peter’s Basilica. “My brother cardinals have chosen one who is from far away, but here I am.”
Father Carlos Ruiz, of the Order of Friars Minor at St. Peter's in the Loop, said the Argentina-born pope then gave an unexpected sign of things to come.
"He did something no pope has ever done," Ruiz said. "He bowed his head [to the crowd] to ask for their prayer support."
Bergoglio's choice of the name Francis I, in honor of Francis of Assisi, was especially significant here in Chicago, Ruiz said. St. Peter's church is also named after the Italian friar.
Like Ruiz, the Chicago church's friar staff is of the Franciscan Order.
According to Ruiz, the story goes that Francis of Assisi, one of the most admired religious figures in history, once went to a church in his younger years to pray.
"He spoke to the cross and asked, 'What do you want me to do?'," Ruiz said. "And the message he received was 'Repair my church'."
Ruiz said the biggest task ahead of the new pope is to do just that: repair the church.
"We need to remember that the church is one — we need to pray for unity," he said.