For the first time in 456 years the College of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church elected a non-Italian pope yesterday.
He is Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, 58, archbishop of Krakow, Poland.
The new pope chose the name John Paul II in honor of his immediate predecessor, Archbishop Albino Luciani of Venice, who resigned as John Paul I for just 34 days before his death Sept. 28.
The last non-Italian to serve as supreme pontiff was a Dutchman, Pope Hadrian VI, who was elected in 1522 and died Sept. 14, 1523.
The choice of Luciani as the successor to Pope Paul VI, who died Aug. 6, had confounded all the predictions, and Wojtyla's election was even more unexpected.
For a church in a deep crisis in the Western world, the choice of a cardinal from the most fervently Catholic country in Eastern Europe seemed to be both a tribute to the way Poland has clung to its religious faith through three decades of Communist rule [WORD ILLEGIBLE] bid to infuse a new spirit in a flagging faith elsewhere.
It is a bound to have a major effect on the Roman Catholic Church's relations with the Communist world. Wojtyla is known as a political liberal and a theological moderate. He was one of the most active participants in the Vatican II Council that liberalized the church's orientation in the 1960s.
The new pope seemed immediately to win the hearts of cheering Romans as he spoke from the central window of St. Peter's Basilica to be expectant thousands below.
In only slightly accented Italian, he said to cheers that he came from "a fareway county." The he said, "Even if I cannot express myself well in your language - in our language - if I make mistakes you will correct me."
Even John Paul I, who showed himself to be no respecter of traditionalism, was not as quick to break with tradition as the new pope. No one could recall a pope's giving a little speech as John Paul II did before the new pope's customary reading of the Latin blessing urbi et orbi (to the city and the world).
When John Paul II said that he came from a distant land, someone shouted in Italian, "It's a good thing." The reaction of the crowd seemed to be immediate acceptance. Vatican priests who have met the new pope said they found him friendly, approachable and easy to talk to.
Rome newspapers published extras. The largest headline was in the Communist newspaper paese Sera: "White Smoke Wojtyla."
At the window of St. Peter's tonight, the new pope seemed at first to clap his hands nervously, but raised them with seeming self-confidence to acknowledge the frequent cheers of the crowd. Beside him was Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, 77, primate of Poland and the living symbol of his nation's attachment to Catholicism in adversity.
John Paul II was chosen on the second day of balloting in the fourth voting session, but it was not immediately known whether it was on the seventh or the eighth ballot. Two votes are taken at each session until a Pope is elected. With 111 cardinals eligible to cast ballots, 75 votes - two-thirds plus one - were needed.
The decision to name a non-Italian may have resulted as much from the inability of teh Italians to unite on one of their own as from a belief that it was time to move outside Italy for a leader of the world's 600 million Cathlics.
Before the conclave, various Italian cardinals were making public and remipublic statements that showed that the open style of Pope John Paul I had sparked a struggle among the Italians over whether it was time to make the pendulum swing rightward away from the reforms of John Paul's two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI.
By his choice of name, John Paul II Wojtyla showed that he, too, means to continue in the liberalizing line of the most recent popes.
At the window, one of the new pope's first statements was, "We are still saddened by the death of our beloved John Paul I."
"I was afraid to receive this call," said the new Pope, "but I accepted it in the spirit of obedience to God."
The statement, was reminiscent of Cardinal Luciani's immediate reaction upon being elected: "My God forgive you for what you have done to me."
But no one sensed that Wojtyla, who is seven years younger than Luciani, has any health related reasons for saying awhat he did. On the contrary, the trim new pope with straight, graying blond hair and an open Slavic face seemed hale and vigorous.
His age appeared to have been a major factor in the choice after the recent experience of electing an older man who apparently would not withstand the physical and emotional strains of the office. There were those who had argued that it would be a mistake to choose too young a pope because the church could then be saddled with him for 20 years or more.
Except for his non-Italian origins, Wojtyla is in the general mold of Luciani as a cardinal with few connections to the church's central government, the Roman Curia, and a man with major pastoral responsibilities in a large diocese.
Krakow, the ancient capital of the kings of Poland, is the seat of a diocesc with two million Catholics. In the Italian political context, Wojtyla's election probably means that the church will create no obstacles to the continuation of the "historic compromise" between Italy's Catholic Party, the ruling Christian Democrats, and the country's second largest party, the communists.
Wojtyla distinguished himself in Poland as a man who carried on dialogue with the Communists, although the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Ramano immediately published writings by him denouncing the persecution of religion by those who see it as the "the opiate of the people" - a phrase coined by Karl Marx, the founder of modern communism.
The first important decision related to Italian politics that faces the Pope is his choice of a secretary of state, the equivalent of prime minister in the Vatican government. It has been widely assumed that any non-Italian pope would name an Italian as secretary of state because of the church's special importance in Italian affairs. The present secretary of state is Cardinal Jean Vilot, a Frenchman who has served two Italian popes.
Present in St. Peter's Square last night was a symbolic figure in Wojtyla's life, Jerzy Turowicz of Znak (Sign), the Polish Communist authorities in defiance of Cardinay Wyszynski.
The primate publicly denounce an article by Turowicz in 1969, saying that it was time for the church to face the fact, that it was in crisis.
Publicly, Wojtyla sided with the primate, but he then went to Rome to see Pope Paul VI to explain that the objective of the Znak group was to keep the dialogue between Catholics and the Communist government going. When he returned to Poland, Wojtyla reported that the pope had called the Znak group's position "courageous."
Turowicz, interviewed last night called the new pope "a bit of a moralist," but said that he is "open about all problems" and that he understands the international dimensions of all the situations confronting the church.
Although Wojtyla's official biography says that he was the son of a worker and worked in a chemical plant himself as a young man, Turowicz, who knows him well, said that his father was a non commissioned officer in the Polish army. Turowicz called Wojtyla an intellectual and said that he was the first in his family to receive a university education.
A story circulated in Rome that last year Wojtyla published a book of meditations in Italian entitled "Sign of Contradiction," because Pope Paul VI had urged him to be published here so that Italians would get to know him better. The writings published by Osservatore Romano came from that book.
It spoke feelingly of "hunger, economic exploitation and colonialism" in the Third World, but added that such conditions are also present elsewhere, apparently meaning in the Communist world. Religious persecution in the modern era takes place, he said, in countries where "full religious liberty" is proclaimed "to save appearances."
At Vatican II, Wojtyla is credited with having led a group of Eastern European bishops in beating back a nearly successful conservative attempt to eliminate a statement favorable to religious liberty. Wojtyla and his allies insisted that such a statement was needed by the church in Communist countries in its struggle to maintain itself against governments.
Wojtyla also opposed demands by Eastern European emigre groups that Vatican II denounce atheism. On behalf of the Polish bishops, Wojtyla said,"It is not the church's place to preach to unbelievers . . . Let us avoid any spirit of monopolizing and moralizing."
He nevertheless described Communist antireligious campaigns as " the anticatechism of the secular world. "
Wojtyla has demonstrated his diplomatic skills by appearing simultaneously to maintain Iris solidarity with Wyszynski and seeming more willing than Wyszynski to accommodate the government.
The new pope is a staunch advocate of "collegiality," the doctrine of power-sharing between the popes and the bishops, and an idea that has come under strong attack recently from arch-conservatives in the church.
He and Wyszynski are the only two Polsih cardinals. A third, Boleslaw Filipiack, a member of the Curia, died only last week.
Altogether, there are six Eastern European cardinals.
It was under Pope Paul VI that the Italians became a minority in the College of Cardinals, but there is still a slim majority of cardinals from the developed world. Counting the 19 Latin Americans and 12 North Americans eligible to vote, an overwhelming majority of cardinals is of European origin.
The choice of a Polish Cardinal is not only a sign that the church wants to continue "opening to the East" that Pope Paul VI inaugurated, but it also shows that the cardinals may not want the church to be dominated by any important group.
The Eastern Europeans have great prestige and audience at the Vatican because of their success in survivin the Cold War period, when they were known as the "church of silence," and emerging reinforced. But they are basically a small group and they do not have behind them the kind of wealth that spells the power that the North American contingent possesses, for instance.
Although Wojtyla is said to have been influenced by the doctrinally and economically conservative Opus Dei group, it seems inevitable that a man with his background will give special emphasis to the kinds of Christian social doctrines that have made it possible for the church to learn to live side by side with Communist governments. Such a new emphasis could also lead to greater influence in the Third World, where most countries also call themselves socialist.