After only two days of voting, Roman Catholic cardinals elected Argentine Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new pope to lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. He has chosen the name Francis and is the first pope from Latin America in the Catholic Church’s 2,000-year history.
The mood was electric in St. Peter’s Square Wednesday evening when Pope Francis emerged onto the basilica’s balcony for the first time in his new papal vestments.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims from around the world had endured rain and cold temperatures to greet their new spiritual leader.
Pope Francis, who less than an hour earlier was known as Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is the first pope to come from the Americas, a fact he acknowledged with a smile as he addressed the crowd.
“As you know, the duty of the conclave was to give Rome a bishop,” said Pope Francis. “It seems to me that my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world. Here I am.”
It took five rounds of voting for the 115 cardinals, cut off from the outside world since Tuesday in the Vatican, to reach at least a two-thirds majority in selecting a new pope.
The 76-year-old Francis takes over from Pope Benedict XVI, who now has the title pope emeritus. Benedict, who is 85, resigned last month, saying he did not have the strength to carry out his papal duties. He was the first pontiff to voluntarily step down in 600 years.
Francis urged his fellow Catholics to pray for his predecessor and for their new journey together.
“It is a journey of friendship, of love, of trust, and faith,” he said. “Let us pray always for one another. Let us pray for the whole world. Let us have a big brotherhood.”
When white smoke started billowing out of a Vatican chimney announcing Francis’ election, the crowd reacted with joy.
British man: “Very beautiful, this is the first time of my life to watch this. Fantastic.”
Unidentified woman: “So emotional. It’s white. I’m so happy.”
Venezuelan woman: “This is a historical moment, and we’re very lucky to be here.”
Reactions also came from people for the first time on social media Web sites like Twitter, which had the keywords “whitesmoke” and “HabemusPapam” trending worldwide.
Prior to Pope Francis’ election, many analysts had speculated that the cardinals would decide it was time to elect a pontiff who was not European. Like their new pope, more than 40 percent of the world’s Catholics are from Latin America. And as the number of Catholics has decreased in Europe in recent years, Africa and Asia have seen more followers filling the pews.
Francis inherits the reins of a bureaucracy that is still struggling to overcome scandal, including child sex abuse cases involving the clergy that date back decades and the theft and release of documents from the papal residence revealing alleged corruption in the Vatican administration.