Just minutes after the Sede Vacante period began, Cardinal Camerlengo Tarcisio Bertone took over the reins of Vatican temporarily. He would oversee the Church's properties, seal the papal apartments, and solve day-to-day matters until the election of a new Pope.
All cardinals also received a letter from the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano. It officially informed them of Benedict XVI's resignation, and it summoned them to Rome immediately to elect a new Pope.
On March 4, the pre-conclave began. Up until March 11, the cardinals met to discuss the challenges the Church faced and what kind of leader could tackle them. But all the details of their meetings had to remain secret.
"I don't recall anything. I forgot everything.”
"It was a place for prayer and meditation.”
"My silence will do the talking.”
"I won't say anything. Goodbye and sorry.”
At the same time, the Vatican was also getting the Sistine Chapel ready for the conclave. These stoves played a vital role. One would burn the voting ballots, while the other would be used to let the outside world know the results.
The new Pope's habit was also ready to go. Tailors made three in small, medium and large sizes to better suit the Church's next leader.
The conclave began on Tuesday, March 12. All 115 cardinals filed in to the Sistine Chapel in the afternoon. Half of them, 60, came from Europe. Latin America had 19, while 11 came from the United States, and 3 from Canada. Both Africa and Asia were represented by 11 each, while Australia had one.
To be elected Pope, the candidate had to tally at least 77 votes.
After all of the cardinals swore secrecy, the Chapel doors closed.
The first fumata, or smoke signal, came later that night. Black smoke emerged, meaning the cardinals were unable to reach consensus.
On Wednesday, March 13, despite the steady rain falling in Rome, thousands of people waited at St. Peter's Square for the next fumata. Again, black smoke emerged.
By Wednesday evening, after five rounds of voting, white smoke finally appeared. The cardinals had chosen a new Pope.
An hour later, Cardinal Protodeacon Jean Louis Tauran made the much anticipated announcement.
Anuntio vobis gaudium magnum...
"You know that it was the duty of the Conclave to give Rome a Bishop. It seems that my brother Cardinals have gone to the ends of the earth to get one... And first of all, I would like to offer a prayer for our Bishop Emeritus, Benedict XVI. Let us pray together for him, that the Lord may bless him and that Our Lady may keep him.”
"I have no words. I am very happy to be Latin American, and very proud. This is the first Argentinian Pope, so we are all very happy.”
JUAN PABLO CAFIERO
Argentine Ambassador to the Holy See
"We are very excited. It is a gift for the whole Church, for all of mankind. We have our Pope Francisco, our Cardinal Bergoglio. It will be very positive for all Catholics and for the world.”
One day a time, the world became familiar with the unique approach for this new Pope. The morning after his election, he ventured out to the hotel where he had been staying to pay his bill.
FR. FEDERICO LOMBARDI
"There, he picked up his bags, said hi to the staff, and he paid his bill. He wanted to set a good example. Then he returned to Santa Marta.”
When he met with 5,000 journalists at Paul VI Hall, the Pope also explained why he chose to be called Francis.
"During the election, I had next to me the archbishop emeritus of Sao Paulo, and prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes. He's a great friend. When the 'danger' grew, he would comfort me. And when the votes reached the two thirds required, applause broke out because we had elected a new Pope. Cardinal Hummes hugged me and kissed me saying, 'Do not forget about the poor.' Those words stayed with me, the poor!So then in my mind I immediately thought of Francis of Assisi.”
Ten days would pass before a historic and much awaited meeting between two living Popes. Pope Francis visited Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo.
Together, they prayed and met for 45 minutes. Here, Benedict XVI handed him the Vatileaks report, while Pope Francis gave him this gift.
"I am told it's called the Madonna of Humility. Allow me to say one thing, I though of you, so much humility during your pontificate.”
The month of March ended with the Holy Week celebrations. Pope Francis stunned everyone when he celebrates Holy Thursday Mass at a juvenile detention center in Rome. He washed the feet of twelve teens, including two Muslims.
"What does this mean? That we have to help one another. If you are angry at someone, let it. And if they ask you for a favor, do it. Jesus teaches us this, and this is what I do, I do it with all my heart, because it's my duty.”
The ceremony was simple, but emotional. It paved the way as an example of a pontificate characterized by mercy and service to the most vulnerable members of society