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Pope Francis: What Happens After A Papal Election

As news spread that the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel was billowing white smoke to signal the election of Pope Francis, anticipation built for the new pontiff's first appearance on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.

Update at 6:45 p.m. ET: The Vatican says Pope Francis will celebrate an installation Mass on Tuesday, March 19, confirming a date we reported earlier as being tentative.

The new pope, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is the successor to Pope Benedict XVI, now known as "pope emeritus." The introduction of Pope Francis represents the end of an electoral process and the start of a new papacy.

Here's a quick rundown of what happens after a papal conclave makes its choice, and how Pope Francis will begin his duties:

  • After being informed of his election and accepting the position, the new pope was asked what name he will use. That means that, yes, there are cardinals in Vatican City today who will likely never utter the name they'd picked out — just in case. It's not known if Bergoglio had the answer "Pope Francis" ready back in 2005, when Benedict was elected.
  • As word of the new pontiff's election was signaled to the outside world, the new head of Roman Catholicism received a white robe and other vestments. This was done in a chamber known as the "Room of Tears."
  • French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the protodeacon, then appeared on the balcony of St. Peter's, where he announced to the thousands gathered below, "Habemus Papam!" or, "We have a Pope!"
  • Pope Francis stepped onto the balcony and delivered an apostolic blessing to the crowd, as well as to the world's estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. The cardinals have "chosen one from far away, but here I am," he said.
  • The new pope is expected to begin his public duties almost immediately. As Catholic News reported today, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the new pontiff might recite the Angelus prayer on Sunday, March 17, and celebrate an installation Mass on March 19.
  • At the installation Mass, Pope Francis will receive two more papal items: his "fisherman's ring" signet, as well as a pallium, a wool cloak or band worn across the shoulders.
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