Monday 18 March 2013

Paul Keating ex Prime Minister of Australia | and insightful interview

You don't have to be a true believer to recognise there are few in public life who make an idea sing the way Paul Keating does. And here, in this Sydney Writers Festival special event, he's in full stride speaking with the ABC's Kerry O'Brien.

Known as much for his acerbic tongue as for his economic reform, Paul Keating lives up to his reputation at this Sydney Writers' Festival Special Event. The anecdotes flow thick and fast, from reflections on an indignant childhood to the new domestic carbon tax, to the larger geopolitical stage and the opportunities missed by both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

According to Keating, Obama should have had the sword out from Day One. Instead, he's been too concerned with sending all the customers away satisfied. Keating quotes one of his mentors, Jack Lang: "In political life, you need a decent stock of enemies".

In a wide-ranging conversation with the ABC's Kerry O'Brien, the loose focus is "After Words", Keating's new collection of post prime ministerial speeches. As you'll see, Keating is clearly enjoying being centre stage once again.

Paul Keating became Australia's 24th Prime Minister in 1991 after successfully challenging Bob Hawke for the Labor leadership, and won the so-called "unwinnable" election just over a year later. During office, he introduced compulsory superannuation, deregulated the financial sector and floated the Australian dollar. He was defeated at the 1996 election by his long-time nemesis John Howard, but remains an ebullient contributor to the Australian economic and political arenas. He has recently published a book, "After Words: Post-Prime Ministerial Speeches".

Kerry O'Brien is an Australian journalist based in Sydney. He is the former editor and longtime host of "The 7.30 Report" on the ABC and the present host of the current affairs show "Four Corners".

O'Brien has had roles as a general reporter, feature writer, political and foreign correspondent, interviewer and compere, and also served as press secretary to then Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.

                                            _______________     |    ______________

 Paul Keating ex Prime Minister of Australia 1991 to 1996 

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Sunday 17 March 2013

Pope Francis wants 'poor Church for the poor'

image of Michael Hirst

Pope Francis has said he wants "a poor Church, for the poor" following his election as head of the world's 1.2bn Catholics on Wednesday. He said he chose the name Francis after 12-13th Century St Francis of Assisi, who represented "poverty and peace". He urged journalists to get to know the Church with its "virtues and sins" and to share its focus on "truth, goodness and beauty". Pope Francis takes over from Benedict XVI, who abdicated last month. The former Argentine cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, was the surprise choice of cardinals meeting in Rome to choose a new head of the Church.

Divulging details of the conclave is punishable by excommunication. Only the Pope can release his electors from the vow of secrecy.Which is a good thing, because speaking in fluent Italian - and often off the cuff - to journalists in a packed Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis told of the moment he was elected. When he passed the crucial two-thirds threshold, his close friend, the Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes hugged him, kissed him and entreated: "Don't forget the poor!" "And that word went in here," said the new Pope, pointing to his head.

It's widely thought that each cardinal has a name up their sleeve before the election, just in case, but the 76-year-old Argentine suggested his choice was spontaneous. The son of an aristocrat, St Francis of Assisi spurned a life of luxury to live with and for the poor. The new Pope, the son of an Italian railway worker, said how he was inspired by the 13th Century Italian saint who was a man of both poverty and peace. "How I wish the Church could become poor again," he said. In his first audience at the Vatican, he said Jesus Christ and not the Pope was the centre of the Church, which he stressed was "spiritual not political" in nature.
He said the Holy Spirit had inspired the resignation of Benedict XVI and guided the cardinals choosing him as the next pontiff. The Pope said he had been inspired to take the name Francis by a Brazilian colleague who embraced him and whispered "don't forget the poor" when it was announced that he had been elected Pope. He said he immediately thought of St Francis of Assisi, the Italian founder of the Franciscan Order who was devoted to the poor.

As well as representing poverty and peace, he said St Francis "loved and looked after" creation - and he noted that humanity was "not having a good relationship with nature at the moment". St Francis of Assisi is said to have loved animals as his "brothers and sisters" and even to have preached to birds. Humour
There had been speculation that Pope Francis - who was a member of the Jesuit order - had chosen his name in honour of St Francis Xavier, a 16th Century Jesuit missionary in Asia. But he said this was not the case.

The new Pope's style is very different to that of his predecessor, BBC Vatican correspondent David Willey says. He talks in simple, easy to understand terms about ethical values and shows a remarkable sense of humour, our correspondent says. Earlier, the Vatican said Pope Francis would visit his predecessor Pope emeritus Benedict next week.Pope Benedict, 85, became the first Pope in 600 years to abdicate last month when he said old age and health meant he could no longer continue in the job.

                                         __________________   |   _________________

Saturday 16 March 2013

Save City Place - make it WOW! '

City Place - Reasons why 'Save City Place - make it WOW', rejects Options 1 and 2, but supports Option 3

OPTION 1:  Open City Place to buses and cars, develop the Shield St extensions

OPTION 2:  Open City Place to buses only

OPTION 3:  Revitalise City Place as a pedestrian-only precinct

Silvia, and Geoff Holland with CRC Security Officer looking on.

Why we wish to retain and revitalise City Place as a pedestrian precinct

1.       City Place is the Heart of Cairns.  In 2011 Cairns Regional Council announced they were not going to destroy City Place, merely move it into the corridor between Lake St and Grafton St.  It would be called the “Heart of Shields St”.  In March 2013, Cairns Regional Council announced that the “Heart of Shields St” would be relocated into the corridor between Lake St and Abbott St.  It would no longer be called the “Heart of Shields St”.  Council’s landscape architect Jez Clark, who came up with council’s latest design, said “I think the heart idea is quite strange in a sense in that it’s a lineal, it’s..  my heart’s kind of in one place [forming a circle with his hands].  I think it’s more of a lineal sort of experience.”  Jez Clark admits – the Heart of Cairns is gone in his latest design.

2.       City Place is our Town Square.  A Town Square is the most important civic space where citizens can gather to discuss issues and to defend the social and democratic values of their community and country.  The significance of Town Squares has a history going back hundreds of years in Europe and elsewhere.  It took 130 years for Melbourne to establish a Town Square because New South Wales Governor George Gipps specifically banned in 1838 the creation of open squares because he believed they would only encourage democracy.  

City Place is where Mabo Day and NAIDOC Week have traditionally been launched.  A significant rally was held there by unions in September 2012.  The Cairns City Forum earlier in 2012 gave an opportunity for the public to ask questions directly to candidates of both the State and Local elections, a forum facilitated by Toastmasters International.  A free speech podium is located in City Place to allow anyone to have their say.  Earth Hour has been celebrated in City Place.

The corridor between Lake St and Abbott St on Shields St is not appropriate as a meeting place.  Jez Clark has described how the proposed splash base fountain can be switched off so the audience for an event can stand in the fountain.  This is unsatisfactory.  We need a grassy terraced amphitheatre with shade from the sun and shelter from the rain in front of the stage as we propose in Option 3 where the current performance stage is located.

3.       City Place is a focal point and meeting place.  Visitors enjoy and benefit from a focal point to orient themselves in a city.  City Place is that focal point.  It is a meeting point.  A major iconic fountain or waterfall in City Place which would be a signature landmark for Cairns, would further define a focal point and meeting place for the City.

4.       City Place is a unique space.  It is the only place in the Cairns CBD with four heritage buildings on all corners including historic Hides Hotel and the School of Arts building where the Cairns Museum is located.  It has a magnificent fig tree on one side.  It is close enough to the ocean to catch the sea breezes.

5.       City Place has a special history.  Located beside Gimuy Lagoon, it was a meeting place of the Gimuy Wallabarra Clan for over a thousand years.  Gimuy Lagoon still exists under Rockmans, Woolworths and Orchid Plaza.  A creek still runs underground from the lagoon down Shields St, under the Esplanade Lagoon and out to sea.  The Aborigines of the Gimuy Wallabarra Clan made shields from the buttress roots of the Gimuy fig trees (slippery blue figs) that grew around the lagoon.  They did this without killing the trees.  Gimuy is the original name for Cairns.  This history could be depicted in interpretive signs and Aboriginal public art reflecting the water stories of the original inhabitants.
Mayor Cr. Bob Manning

Reasons why we reject OPTION 1 and OPTION 2

1.       There is no reason to open City Place to vehicles.  We were told it was necessary to open City Place to buses because we needed an efficient bus service.  But the creation of an ambiguous and dangerous “shared zone” with all buses having to weave through one of the busiest pedestrian zones in the CBD will  But the Cairns Transit Network in the city will get rid of all bus stops in the CBD except one pair located on Lake St at Aplin St.  This means bus commuters will have to walk much further to get to their destination, including elderly, disabled and young parents with toddlers, in the hot tropical sun and heavy tropical downpours.

2.       Bus stops reduced from 10 to 2.  The Cairns Transit Network in the city will get rid of all bus stops in the CBD except one pair located on Lake St at Aplin St.  This means bus commuters will have to walk much further to get to their destination, including elderly, disabled and young parents with toddlers, in the hot tropical sun and heavy tropical downpours.  The Cairns Transit Network would actually reduce amenity for bus passengers!  Under Option 3 we would develop existing bus stops in Abbott St (near Woolworths, Orchid Plaza), a pair of bus stops on Spence St between Grafton and Sheridan St, and a pair if bus stops on McLeod St between Shields St and Aplin St.  Bus passengers could then access any bus route in Cairns from any of these bus stops, and they would provide good coverage of the CBD.  Under this plan, bus stops would be removed from Lake St.

3.       No more Heart of Cairns, only a “lineal experience”.  Option 1 and Option 2 would relocate City Place into the Heart of Shields St – in the corridor between Abbott St and Lake St.  This is a corridor space not a focal point – a Heart of the City.  Council architect Jez Clark said “I think the heart idea is quite strange in a sense that it’s a lineal, it’s...  My heart’s [indicates round shape of a heart with his hands] kind of in one place.  I think it’s more of a lineal sort of experience and I think it’s difficult to talk when you use that language.”  But Jez, we want a City Heart!

4.       No performances permitted.  Existing city ordinances would not allow performances in this corridor because of noise regulations.  Noise regulations allow performances in City Place because Cairns Regional Council have known  this open space can manage and tolerate increased noise levels, unlike the corridor between Lake St and Abbott St which is a relatively closed space, and has a more direct impact on local businesses at close range.

5.       Performing artists say not a performance space.  Bands and performing artists have signed a petition saying the corridor space between Lake and Abbott St on Shields St is not an appropriate space for performances.

6.       The audience has to stand.  Under Option 1 and Option 2, the audience of the performance stage would have to stand in the “splash base” fountain area.  This is because there is limited space.  Under Option 3, on the other hand, the grassy area in front of the performance stage in City Place would be expanded into a larger shaded terraced grassy amphitheatre.  People would not have to stand up to watch a performance but could relax on the grass.

7.       Two pedestrian zones cut by a busy road.  Under Option 1 and Option 2 we are supposedly creating two City Places either side of Lake St for pedestrians but it is cut in two by a busy road with all buses passing through at slow speed suggesting bottlenecks and queues. 

8.       The road would be even hotter than City Place is now.  What little shade we still have will be removed to make way for the road.

9.       There would be no truly pedestrian-only zones in the CBD – just ‘shared zones’.  The Shields St extensions (between Abbott and Lake St, and between Lake and Grafton St) will not be pedestrian only.  They will be “shared zones” with some vehicle access.  City Place is our only truly pedestrian zone in the CBD and we wish to keep it!

10.   No major fountain / waterfall focus.  Option 1 and Option 2 provide 6 mediocre off-the-shelf water features.  Option 3 would provide one large iconic fountain or waterfall in City Place which would signify the Heart of Cairns, a meeting place.  It would be a signature for Cairns, the Reef and the rainforest.  Visitors would come to have their [photos taken in front of the fountain / waterfall and show friends back in their home country.  Locals would meet there as it would be an unmistakeable pinpoint landmark.  Option 3 would also provide a number of lesser water features.

11.   Heavy vehicles may put heritage buildings at risk.  City Place is the only square in Cairns that has heritage buildings on all four corners.  City Place is also built on swamp, and the ground is susceptible to movement.  Having all buses drive past these heritage buildings regularly, particularly Hides Hotel and the School of the Arts building where Cairns Museum is located, could damage these buildings over time.

12.   No children’s playground.  Option 1 and Option 2 would get rid of the children’s playground in Shields St between Lake St and Abbott St replacing it with the performance stage.  While there would be a “splash base” fountain, this would be intermittent and not a regular play structure for children.  Under Option 3 the children’s play structures would remain and there would be a splash base fountain with shade sails similar to Muddies Playground.

Proposed demolition of City Place.

Features of Option 3

1.       Tropical oasis.  Under Option 3 City Place would become a tropical oasis – a cool space where people can relax during the heat of the day.

2.       Large native tropical shade trees.  When Council removed the large shade trees some years ago, City Place became too hot for people to spend time in during the day.  They replanted with Brazilian leopard trees which were inappropriate and have not provided adequate shade.  Mature native shade trees can be planted if pruned before planting.  A full canopy can be achieved within 1 year (tourist resorts plant mature trees all the time).

3.       Grassy seating area.  Locals remember the grassy hill where people used to relax.  Under Option 3, the grassy area in front of the performance stage would be expanded into a larger terraced grassy amphitheatre.  It would have shade from the sun and shelter from the rain allowing performances and other events even when raining.

4.       State-of-the-art performance stage.  Performers were never consulted over the previous design of the performance stage and as a result it is largely dysfunctional as it does not provide protection from the elements, has not facilities for changing, and does not provide acoustical projection.  A new state-of-the-art performance stage may incorporate some of the existing stage.  However the design process would be sure to consult with local performing artists and look at best practice around the world.

5.       Iconic fountain/waterfall.  Option 1 and 2 offer 6 minor water features taken off-the-shelf.  Option 3 would see a City Place designed around one major iconic water feature, plus a number of minor water features such as a splash base fountain in Shields St next to the children’s playground, and another between Lake and Grafton St on Shields St, and another on Lake St behind the performance stage – an area which would be developed for outdoor dining and cafés.  This iconic fountain/waterfall would be a landmark.  It would be a signature for Cairns reflecting the local Aboriginal culture, and the water stories of Far North tropical rainforest.  It would be a place which visitors have heard of before they even arrive in Cairns, and go there to have their photo taken so show friends back home.  It would be a meeting place for locals.  It would help cool the tropical oasis in City Place.

6.       Tourist Information Kiosk.  A small stylish tourist information kiosk would be located in City Place.  This would double as a Police Beat Desk.  Amongst other things this Tourist Information Kiosk would have brochures on “What’s On in Cairns”, and also bus timetables and a map of bus routes in Cairns and the region.

7.       24/7 Police Beat Desk.  There was previously a Police Beat office in City Place, but this was moved down to the Esplanade Lagoon.  There is a need to establish a Police Beat Desk once again.  There would be two police officers on duty all the time.  They would have a mobile phone, and this mobile number would be made public to all shop owners, and the names of those on duty would be available on a roster on the Web.  The mobile phone would be handed to the next pair of officers when changing shift.  Ideally the police officers would be Aboriginal and specially trained in Aboriginal Liaison, and well as Tourist Liaison.  They may have special colourful uniforms.  They would patrol City Place and the extensions for 100m in every direction. 

8.       Public art.  We have seen successful examples of public art on the Esplanade and other locations around Cairns.  City Place also deserves quality public art.  This art, including sculpture and mosaics, could reflect the waterstories of the original Aboriginal Bama inhabitants of City Place, the Gimuy Yidinji people.

9.       Historical interpretive signs.  Interpretive signs could relate the history of Gimuy Lagoon located at City Place, the gimuy trees whose buttress roots were used to make shields.  They could form part of a historical walk and relate to the Cairns Museum located in City Place.  The signs could also relate to the history of the heritage buildings located on each corner of City Place.

                                          __________________  |  ___________________

Friday 15 March 2013

Italy Did Not Just Send in The Clowns

Why The Political Stalemate Is a Warning to Democracies Everywhere

Silvio Berlusconi in 2011. (Tony Gentile / Courtesy Reuters)

Italy's inconclusive election on February 25 did nothing to help the country's image abroad. In noting that more than half of Italians cast their vote for either Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister, or Beppe Grillo, leader of the Five Stars Movement, international observers resorted to familiar tropes. Painting Italy's political system as farcical and chaotic, the German Social Democratic leader Peer Steinbrück commented that Italy had elected two clowns.  Of course one of them, Grillo, is an actual comedian, whose party polled an extraordinary 25 percent of the vote in its first national election. But Steinbrück should not have been so quick to condemn: the results of the Italian election are a reflection -- albeit an exaggerated one -- of trends that all European democracies are facing.

Italy's political impasse is the direct result of declining popular support for the two broad political coalitions that have shaped its politics for the last two decades: the center-left, currently organized around the Democratic Party (PD), and the conservatives, dominated by the People of Freedom (PDL), led by Berlusconi. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, one of these coalitions generally won enough parliamentary seats to form a government, albeit often by including unpredictable minor parties in their governing majority.
This time, though, neither has garnered anywhere near enough support to form a government. The Italian constitution requires a government to win a majority in both houses of parliament before it can take the reins. The PD has a comfortable majority in the lower house, thanks mostly to electoral laws that grant a generous number of bonus house seats to the winning coalition. The party is far short of majority in the Senate, though, since the law allocates Senate bonus seats at the regional level, which benefited the PD and PDL more or less equally.

The current Italian electoral law was passed in 2005 by Berlusconi's government in an attempt to cement his grip on power. By allocating seat bonuses to the winning coalition, it was supposed to ensure a secure parliamentary majority for the government. But this only works if the two main coalitions dominate the contest. Together, the lists of Pier Luigi Bersani (of the PD) and Berlusconi pulled in only 59 percent of the vote in this election, almost 30 points fewer than their results in the last election in 2008. Widespread surprise at the Berlusconi coalition's strong comeback in the election, coming close to winning victory in the lower house, has distracted from the fact that it has hemorrhaged more than seven million votes since 2008. The center-left coalition, meanwhile, lost more than three and half million votes. The outgoing prime ,minister, Mario Monti, who unwisely stood at the head of a centrist coalition, also performed well below expectations, coming in at only ten percent of the vote.

One reading of this extraordinary outcome is that it was a protest against the painful spending cuts, tax increases, and economic reforms that Monti's government implemented as a precondition (albeit an unstated one) for European Central Bank support. The fact that, together, Grillo, who promised a referendum on the euro, and Berlusconi, who took a euroskeptic stance throughout 2012, won more than half of the votes was described by the economist Joseph Stiglitz as "a clear message to Europe's leaders: the austerity policies that they have pursued are being rejected by voters."

But the Italian election is telling us much more than that. In fact, Grillo's party, founded only in 2009, focused less on euroskepticism than on a blanket rejection of the established Italian political elite and its way of doing politics. Rejecting traditional campaign techniques in favor of social media, the party pushed its agenda of, first, ending the generous state subsidies and salaries paid to Italy's political parties and elected politicians and, second, replacing them with a vaguely conceived Internet-based representation system. The Grillo phenomenon is a challenge not only to austerity politics, but to the traditional party system itself. The economic crisis gave Grillo a favorable wind, but his offensive against Italy's corrupt and self-serving politicians was brewing even before the downturn began.

It would be unwise to dismiss the election results as yet another Italian anomaly. All across Europe, membership of political parties is at its lowest level since the World War II. Voters are also less loyal than ever to traditional parties -- they are more likely to switch votes to a rival party or an entirely new one. Only days after Grillo's triumph, the UK Independence Party, which campaigns for British withdrawal from the EU, came to within 2,000 votes of winning a by-election held to replace a disgraced Liberal Democrat MP, pushing the ruling Conservatives into third place. And the success of the Pirate Party in Sweden, the anti-Islam party led by Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and more established populist parties such as the French Front National, confirm that Italy is far from being an outlier.

The economic crisis in Europe is threatening the very survival of the mainstream political parties. European citizens have been showing signs of frustration and dissatisfaction with their elected politicians for years. Even before the crisis, voters had tired of choosing between broadly similar political parties whose policy options are constrained by European laws or the pressures of globalization. Faced with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, this frustration is boiling over into resentment and rejection. And the imposition of draconian measures by supranational institutions only makes things worse. All that has created a crisis of legitimacy for Europe's ailing political parties. If the established political class can be blown out of the water in Italy, politicians Europe-wide must be wondering how safe they are from a similar fate. Political parties not only need to address the economic crisis, they also need to reconnect with voters and revitalize their central role in democratic politics. If they do not, what happened in Italy may soon repeat.

                                           _________________   |   ________________

Francis's humility on display from day one as new Pope

Pope Francis conducts his first public Mass
Pope's chosen name raises interest in St. Francis.
A gentle wave symbolises the man

Pope Francis
The face of humility

Pope Francis put his humility on display during his first day as pontiff, stopping by his hotel to pick up his luggage and pay the bill himself in a decidedly different style of papacy than his tradition-minded predecessor, who tended to stay ensconced in the frescoed halls of the Vatican. The break from Benedict XVI's pontificate was evident even in Francis' wardrobe choices: He kept the simple pectoral cross of his days as bishop and eschewed the red cape that Benedict wore when he was presented to the world for the first time in 2005 - choosing instead the simple white cassock of the papacy. 

The difference in style was a sign of Francis' belief that the Catholic Church needs to be at one with the people it serves and not imposing its message on a society that often doesn't want to hear it, Francis' authorised biographer, Sergio Rubin, said. "It seems to me for now what is certain is it's a great change of style, which for us isn't a small thing," Rubin said, recalling how the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio would celebrate Masses with ex-prostitutes in Buenos Aires. He believes the church has to go to the streets," he said, "to express this closeness of the church and this accompaniment with the people who suffer.

Francis began his first day as pope making an early morning visit in a simple Vatican car to a Roman basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary and prayed before an icon of the Madonna. He had told a crowd of some 100,000 people packed in rain-soaked St Peter's Square just after his election that he intended to pray to the Madonna "that she may watch over all of Rome." He also told cardinals he would call on retired Pope Benedict XVI, but the Vatican said the visit wouldn't take place for a few days.

The main item on Francis' agenda was an inaugural afternoon Mass in the Sistine Chapel, where he warned that the Catholic Church risked becoming little more than a charity with no spiritual foundations if it fails to undergo renewal. Addressing the cardinals who elected him as Latin America's first pope, the 76-year-old Argentinian said the church could "end up a compassionate NGO", using an Italian word that can also mean "pitiful". "I would like all of us after these days of grace to have the courage to walk in the presence of the Lord," Francis said, amid the splendour of the Sistine Chapel. He warned the cardinals against "the worldliness of the Devil". "Walking, building and confessing are not so easy. Sometimes there are tremors," the Pope said, in a homily that will be scrutinised for clues to the style of his leadership.

Francis, the first Jesuit pope and first non-European since the Middle Ages, decided to call himself Francis after St Francis of Assisi, the humble friar who dedicated his life to helping the poor. The new pope, known for his work with the poor in Buenos Aires' slums, immediately charmed the crowd in St Peter's, which roared when his name was announced and roared again when he emerged on the loggia of the basilica with a simple and familiar: "Brothers and sisters, good evening."

By the morning, members of his flock were similarly charmed when Francis stopped by the Vatican-owned residence where he routinely stays during visits to Rome and where he stayed before the start of the conclave to pick up his luggage, pay the bill and greet staff. "He wanted to come here because he wanted to thank the personnel, people who work in this house," said The Reverend Pawel Rytel-Andrianek, who is staying at the residence. "He greeted them one by one, no rush, the whole staff, one by one." "People say that he never in these 20 years asked for a (Vatican) car," he said. "Even when he went for the conclave with a priest from his diocese, he just walked out to the main road, he picked up a taxi and went to the conclave. So very simple for a future pope."

Francis displayed that same sense of simplicity and humility immediately after his election, shunning the special sedan that was to transport him to the hotel so he could ride on the bus with other cardinals, and refusing even an elevated platform from which he would greet them, according to US Cardinal Timothy Dolan. "He met with us on our own level," Cardinal Dolan said. "I think we're going to see a call to Gospel simplicity," said US Cardinal Donald Wuerl. "He is by all accounts a very gentle but firm, very loving but fearless, a very pastoral and caring person ideal for the challenges today."

During dinner, Francis, however, acknowledged the daunting nature of those challenges in a few words addressed to the cardinal electors: "'May God forgive you for what you have done,"' Francis said, according to witnesses. The Vatican spokesman the Reverend Federico Lombardi acknowledged the difference in style between the two popes, attributing it to Francis' life work as the pastor of Buenos Aires whereas Benedict was long an academic. He said it was too early to make a "profound evaluation" of Francis' priorities, urging instead reflection on his first few homilies - particularly at his installation Mass on Tuesday.

Just hours after his election as leader of the Catholic world, an Italian journalist in Rome said the first thing Pope Francis did was to call her up for a friendly chat. "The phone rang... My son picked it up and it was the pope," Stefania Falasca, a former editor for a Catholic monthly, told Italian media. "At home we just called him 'father', we never called him 'eminence'. I didn't know what to say. I asked him 'Father, what am I meant to call you? Holy Father?"' she said. "He laughed and he told me 'The first phone call I wanted to make was to say hello to you, Gianni and the kids,"' she said.

Meanwhile, the woman who has known him her whole life had nothing but sympathy for the newly-elected pope. "Poor man," said Pope Francis's sister, Maria Elena Bergoglio, his only still-living sibling, as she imagined his thoughts just before walking out on the balcony before the massive crowd in St Peter's Square in his first appearance as the pontiff. And yet, "how exciting, to hear the crowd cheering, 'Long live the Pope!" she mused. She said she cried when she heard the news, and only wants "to give a hug" to her big brother, 11 years her senior.

Dressed austerely in a dark green sweater and with barely combed grey hair, she agreed to talk to dozens of reporters waiting outside her home in a middle class neighbourhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. She said she never expected her brother to be Pope. "My brother fulfilled his duties, with increasingly more responsibilities, but I never believed this," she confessed. She said she couldn't predict what her brother will do as Pope, but noted that "his inclination" has always been "to work for the poor, the most marginalised".

The 76-year-old former Cardinal Bergoglio, said to have finished second when Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005, was chosen on just the fifth ballot to replace the first pontiff to resign in 600 years. Francis urged the crowd to pray for Benedict and immediately after his election spoke by phone with the retired pope, who has been living at the papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. A visit to Benedict would be significant because Benedict's resignation has raised concerns about potential power conflicts emerging from the peculiar situation of having a reigning pope and a retired one.

Benedict's longtime aide, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, accompanied Francis to the visit at St Mary Major. In addition to being Benedict's secretary, Monsignor Gaenswein is also the prefect of the papal household and will be arranging the new pope's schedule. Like many Latin American Catholics, Francis has a particular devotion to the Virgin Mary, and his visit to the basilica was a reflection of that. He prayed before a Byzantine icon of Mary and the infant Jesus, the Protectress of the Roman People. "He had a great devotion to this icon of Mary and every time he comes from Argentina he visits this basilica," said one of the priests at the basilica, the Rev Elio Montenero. "We were surprised today because he did not announce his visit."

He then also went into the main altar area of the basilica and prayed before relics of the manger in Bethlehem where Jesus is said to have been born - an important pilgrimage spot for Jesuits Francis' election elated Latin America, home to 40 per cent of the world's Catholics which has nevertheless long been underrepresented in the church leadership. Drivers honked their horns in the streets of Buenos Aires and television announcers screamed with elation at the news.

Cardinal Thomas Collins, the archbishop of Toronto, said the cardinals clearly chose Francis because he was simply "the best person to lead the church." "I can't speak for all the cardinals but I think you see what a wonderful pope he is," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "He's just a very loving, wonderful guy. We just came to appreciate the tremendous gifts he has. He's much beloved in his diocese in Argentina. He has a great pastoral history of serving people."

The new pontiff brings a common touch. The son of middle-class Italian immigrants, he denied himself the luxuries that previous cardinals in Buenos Aires enjoyed. He lived in a simple apartment, often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited slums that ring Argentina's capital. "If he brings that same desire for a simple lifestyle to the papal court, I think they are all going to be in shock," said the Rev Thomas Reese, author of Inside the Vatican, an authoritative book on the Vatican bureaucracy. "This may not be a man who wants to wear silk and furs." Francis considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.

As the 266th pope, Francis inherits a Catholic church in turmoil, beset by the clerical sex abuse scandal, internal divisions and dwindling numbers in parts of the world where Christianity had been strong for centuries. While Latin America is still very Catholic, it has faced competition from aggressive evangelical churches that have chipped away at strongholds such as Brazil, where the number of Catholics has dropped from 74 percent of the population in 2000 to 65 per cent today. Like Europe, secularism has also taken hold: more and more people simply no longer identify themselves with any organised religion.

Francis also inherits a Vatican bureaucracy in need of sore reform. The leaks of papal documents last year exposed the petty turf battles and allegations of corruption in the Holy See administration. One of his most important and watched appointments will be that of his secretary of state, who effectively runs the Holy See. Rev Lombardi said Francis, like his predecessors, would probably confirm all Vatican officials in their jobs for the time being, and make changes at a later date.

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Thursday 14 March 2013

Argentina's Bergoglio elected Pope

image of Michael Hirst

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, elected as the Catholic Church's new Pope, Francis, has greeted crowds in St Peter's Square in Rome. Appearing on a balcony over the square, he asked the faithful to pray for him. Cheers erupted as he gave a blessing.

The 76-year-old from Buenos Aires is the first Latin American and the first Jesuit to be pontiff. An hour earlier, white smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney announced the new Pope's election. He will be installed officially in an inauguration Mass on Tuesday 19 March, the Vatican said. Pope Francis replaces Benedict XVI, who resigned last month at the age of 85, saying he was not strong enough to lead the Church.

He has telephoned Benedict and is planning to meet him, a Vatican spokesman said. Pope Francis takes the helm at a difficult time for the Catholic Church, facing an array of challenges which include the role of women, interfaith tensions and dwindling congregations in some parts of the world.

"Viva il papa!" they chanted, as they waited to learn his name. Once the crowd had been told, the chants quickly turned to: "Fran-ces-co! Fran-ces-co!" And then, to trumpet fanfare, the balcony curtains parted and the new Pope appeared above them, to bless them - but only after he had asked them to pray with him, and for him. The people were touched, and roared their approval.
The BBC's James Robbins, in St Peter's Square, says that at first the crowd was unsure who this man was, but they seemed to warm to his humour. He began his address to the crowds by offering a prayer for his predecessor. In a light-hearted moment, he said his fellow cardinals had gone to the "ends of the Earth" to find a bishop of Rome. He went on to ask the crowd to "pray to God so that he can bless me", before calling on the world to set off on a path of love and fraternity. 'Huge gift'
"Habemus Papam Franciscum," was the first tweet by the papal account @pontifex since Benedict stood down last month. The election was met with thunderous applause at the cathedral in Buenos Aires, Pope Francis' home city.

Throughout Latin America - home to 40% of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics - people reacted with delight and surprise. "It's a huge gift for all of Latin America. We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait," said Jose Antonio Cruz, a Franciscan friar in the Puerto Rican capital San Juan, quoted by the Associated Press.
"Everyone from Canada down to Patagonia is going to feel blessed. This is an event."

US President Barack Obama sent "warm wishes" on behalf of the American people to the newly elected pontiff, hailing the Argentine as "the first pope from the Americas."

Pope Francis

  • Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on 17 December 1936 (age 76) in Buenos Aires, of Italian descent
  • Ordained as a Jesuit in 1969
  • Studied in Argentina and Germany
  • Became Cardinal of Buenos Aires in 1998
  • Seen as orthodox on sexual matters but strong on social justice
Argentina's President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner wished him a "fruitful pastoral mission". She is expected to attend the Pope's inauguration Mass on Tuesday, as is US Vice President Joe Biden, himself a Catholic. 

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said it was a "momentous day" for Catholics, while Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, leader of the world's Anglicans, offered him "every blessing". "I look forward to meeting Pope Francis, and to walking and working together to build on the consistent legacy of our predecessors," he said in a statement.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he looked forward to cooperation under Pope Francis's "wise leadership. Correspondents say Cardinal Bergoglio was a surprise choice and not among a small group of frontrunners before the election. Many observers were also expecting a younger pope to be elected. He is regarded as a doctrinal conservative but seen as a potential force for reform of the Vatican bureaucracy, which may have won the support of reforming cardinals. However, he is known more than anything for his humility. He has spent almost his entire career in Argentina and often travels to work by bus.

Argentines react at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires, 13 March  
 Argentines reacted with joy at the election
The BBC's Marcia Carmo in Buenos Aires says Cardinal Bergoglio's sermons always had an impact in Argentina: he often stressed social inclusion and indirectly criticised governments that did not pay attention to those on the margins of society.

The name he has taken is reminiscent of St Francis of Assisi, the 13th Century Italian reformer and patron saint of animals, who lived in poverty. The saint was said to have been summoned by God to repair a Church in ruins. Cardinal Bergoglio, whose family roots are Italian, is generally thought to have come second in the last conclave in 2005, which elected Benedict XVI as Pope. The 115 cardinals involved in the 2013 election were in isolation since Tuesday afternoon, and held four inconclusive votes.

At least 77 of them, or two-thirds, would have had to vote for a single candidate for him to be elected Pope.
Before the conclave began, there appeared to be no clear choice to replace Benedict.