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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 April, 2005, 21:15 GMT 22:15 UK
Eyewitness: Crowds welcome the new Pope

By Peter Gould
BBC correspondent in Vatican City

Faithful unfold a banner reading Peace in different languages as a line of Swiss Guards stands to attention in St Peter's Square after the election of  Pope Benedict XVI
The crowds cheered when the white smoke emerged
The bells tolled, a band played and the crowd went crazy.

"Habemus papam!" they chanted again and again, upstaging the official announcement.

"We have a Pope!"

Yes, the smoke really was white, although we had to endure 10 minutes of agonising uncertainty.

When it first appeared from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, it appeared grey, and people were cautious.

It wasn't pure white, but it didn't look black either. The cardinals seemed to be teasing us.

Crowd surge

But the smoke was a full hour earlier than expected, suggesting that the conclave had reached a decision in near record time.

And to everyone's delight, they had.

A nun in St Peter's Square
The pilgrims were anxious to witness the announcement

As hope turned to certainty, an excited throng surged forward towards St Peter's Basilica, everyone anxious to secure vantage points.

Priests and nuns ran into the square, anxious to discover the identity of the Church's new leader.

Cheering teenagers were quickly silenced by their elders, as a cardinal appeared on the balcony to make the announcement.

He uttered the Christian name of the chosen cardinal, and immediately the suspense was over.

The name Joseph could mean only one thing. The confirmation of his surname, Ratzinger, was the cue for more applause.

The man in charge of the band had clearly not read the script, and the musicians launched into a triumphant marching number.

The cardinal on the balcony paused, but realised he was never going to silence them. The new Pope, he continued, would be known as Benedict.

Many in the crowd seemed overcome by the emotion of an occasion they may never witness again. Some sank to their knees in prayer.

Pope's address

"This is wonderful," said Christian Baron, a law student from Stuttgart.

"It is special that he is from Germany, but it is more important that we have a strong Pope."
Views on the new Pope from among the crowds in St Peter's Square

But others seemed more doubtful about the cardinals' choice.

"We will have to wait and see what the new Pope does," said Betty Von Hessel, a teacher from Holland.

"But I am worried about the future because he has such conservative ideas."

After another delay, the red velvet curtains on the balcony parted in theatrical fashion, and we got our first look at the new Pope.

With scarlet-clad cardinals watching from adjacent balconies, the white-haired pontiff acknowledged the cheers.

He was clad in a ready-to-wear set of robes prepared earlier by the papal tailors, and they seemed to fit quite well.

From the crowd, there were cries of "Benedict! Benedict!"

The first words of a new pope, delivered from this balcony, are the opportunity to make an immediate impression, not just on the crowd below, but on the millions watching on television.

"Dear Brothers and Sisters," he said, his voice booming around St Peter's Square.

"After the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me - a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord."

It seemed to strike the right note, and as he disappeared from the balcony, many in the crowd were still catching their breath at the speed of his election.

"I am so happy I can hardly speak," said Betty Ndege, a hotel worker from Kenya.

"Let's hope this Pope is like the last. We need someone peaceful to bring the world together."

The band enthusiastically resumed their repertoire, and marched out of the square with contingents from the Italian armed forces and the Swiss Guard.

There was a great deal of noise, some very colourful uniforms, and dozens of security men looking harassed.

The crowd was slow to leave, reflecting on an extraordinary day that will live long in their memories.

The new papacy seems to have begun with a measure of apprehension, as well as joy.

But Tuesday was all about being present at a moment of history. History's judgment on the new Pope will come later.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch the new pope come out to greet the crowds



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