The humility of Pope Francis became evident moments after he was elected when he greeted his fellow cardinals “as brothers.”
While the rest of the world may have been surprised by the pope's age and ethnicity when he first appeared to the world, the conclave of 115 cardinals knew they had chosen someone different than his predecessors.
“We cardinals noticed some things immediately that he was doing differently,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, said Thursday on TODAY.
Pope Francis shunned protocol that called for him to greet the cardinals while sitting in a white chair on an elevated platform.
“When the MC said, ‘Holy Father, up here,’ he said, ‘No, I’m standing down here,’” said Dolan, who also heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “So he greeted each of us as brothers, literally on the same level as we were.”
Dolan also noted that Francis declined a chauffeured limousine that was prepared to take him back to the group's accommodations for the evening.
“He got back on the bus with us, like he had been doing for the whole conclave,” he said. “Those are little signs that send signals.”
The former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, born in Buenos Aires to Italian immigrants, studied to be a chemist but instead turned to priesthood in 1969. He eventually emerged as a champion for the poor, eschewing all luxuries he could have enjoyed when he became archbishop of Buenos Aires. His papal name honors St. Francis of Assisi, the man who abandoned a wealthy lifestyle to live a life of poverty.
In 2005, Bergoglio was widely believed to have come in second to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now the pope emeritus, to succeed Pope John Paul II.
"This is a man of dynamic orthodoxy, genuine missionary fervor. He could be very appealing to young people,” said George Weigel, a frequent commentator on Catholicism and a biographer of Pope John Paul II. “This is a man who knows that there's a lot that needs fixing in the central machinery of the church here in Rome, and I think he will go about fixing it very quickly."
Dolan said it quickly became clear among his fellow cardinals that Bergoglio was the candidate they wanted for pope. He had a track record of “sound, effective pastoral governance,” was familiar with several languages, and was known for his work with the poor.
“The more we got to listen to him, to know him, to hear our brother cardinals speak about him, it was pretty clear that’s where the Holy Spirit was leading us,” Dolan said.
Another sign of the pontiff’s humility emerged early Thursday, his first day as pope, when Francis slipped quietly inside an ancient Roman basilica to pray for guidance.
Dolan, who had been considered a strong American candidate for pope, said he wasn’t disappointed by the results.
“I had relief because we got a pope and a darn good one,” he said. “The chair of St. Peter was empty, and now it is full again and that gives us hope, that gives us renewal. That’s the real relief I sensed last night.”
Another person expressing relief that Dolan wasn’t elected pope was his mother, Shirley Dolan, according to an interview she conducted with NBC affiliate KSDK in St. Louis, Mo.
“It’s not that he wouldn’t have been good for the church. I know he would have, and he would have done a great job, but I want him here,” she said.