ROME (WATE) - Cardinal Justin Rigali from Knoxville was one of only 115 Cardinals in the Conclave to select Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as the next pope.
Cardinal Rigali spoke exclusively to 6 News about his experience and how it felt to see Pope Francis become the next leader of the Roman Catholic church.
Rigali had just wrapped up dinner with the new pope when he spoke to 6 News by phone. It was just after midnight in Rome.
He described the what it was like being inside the Sistine Chapel for several hours, saying, "It was anything but feeling isolated."
Rigali went on to say he and the other cardinals could feel the support from here in Knoxville and across the world.
That support was even more evident after the new pope made his first public appearance, Rigali said.
"It is a very exhilarating feeling to know there is so much support," he said, "and then to come out on the balcony of Saint Peter's Square, it was just teaming with life, just teaming with enthusiasm."
The cardinals are forbidden to talk about anything that happened in the Conclave before the moment the new pope selected.
But what about the moments after Cardinal Bergoglio heard his name called?
Cardinal Rigali described it like this: "It was a tremendous experience for him, so he was very serious at that moment, but later on it was amazing how quickly he was relaxed."
Bergoglio was so relaxed that Cardinal Rigali says he was joking with the others by the time they sat down for dinner.
"He said, 'May God pardon you,'" Rigali said with a laugh, "meaning, 'for electing me.'"
Cardinal Rigali knows Pope Francis from the Conclave in 2005 and several other events in Rome.
He says outside of his sense of humor the best words to describe him are personable, relaxed and gracious. In fact, until now, Pope Francis led a simple life in Argentina, refusing chauffeured limo rides, and living in a small apartment.
"He's not going to live in an apartment," Rigali said. "He will be running a big operation. Of course, he will maintain his own simplicity."
As for the Cardinals, Rigali said, "We have the feeling of mission of accomplished, and we are happy that tomorrow we won't have the same pace."
He went on to say he was both exhausted and exhilarated, but there is still a full schedule of meetings, a mass on Thursday and then Tuesday's official installation ceremony.
The cardinal would not speak about what issues the pope would make a priority, but said he expects a clearer plan to be revealed soon.
Cardinal Rigali hopes to be back in Knoxville by Easter.