By John Siniff, USA TODAY
In an age of tweets, status updates and technological solitude, perhaps it's telling that the one thing that can truly make the world stop and come together is something as old as civilization: fire and a stream of white smoke.
The selection of Pope Francis - Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio - as head of the Catholic Church completes a ritual that winds its way back to St. Peter, a disciple of Jesus.
But the series of firsts that he ushers in (South American, Argentinian, Jesuit) could portend a moment in which the church - often criticized as behind the times - arrives in the new millennium.
The throngs outside St. Peter's Square and the millions of people cheering from their cathedrals or living rooms will remember the balcony appearance, the pageantry, the flashing cameras and the tears of joy. They will forever note the moment in which for the first time in church history, a man from the Americas became leader of the Vatican.
Though 1.2 billion Catholics - 1 in 7 people on the planet - follow this faith of reverence and ritual, there's a reason that many of the 6 billion others stop what they're doing, too. They sent tweets - from the irreverent to the snarky to the simply curious - noting the momentous changing of the guard. You don't have to believe, after all, to enjoy beautiful theater.
The call of Pope Francis - indeed, the duty - will be to help guide the church out of a tumultuous period stained by scandal, mismanagement and uncertainty. As the first Jesuit to lead the church, Bergoglio's appearance might have seemed like an answer to the prayers of those Catholics hoping the church would take a progressive turn and a shift from the tutelage of Pope Benedict. We'll learn in the years ahead whether he appeals to that Jesuit tradition or maintains Benedict's conservative lineage.
It's apropos that a church fading in Europe, while gaining strength in South America and Africa, would leave the comfort of the European continent to find its leader.
The world is indeed getting smaller, and whether in politics, business or culture, change is often what brings strength. Now the world will see whether the new pope, and the 114 Cardinals who elected him, understand that as well.