VATICAN CITY (March 13, 2013)—Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, 76, was elected pope Wednesday, becoming the first pontiff ever from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium.
The white smoke that rose from the Sistine Chapel Tuesday, signifying selection of a new pope.
He chose the name Pope Francis.
Francis is a much-beloved Italian saint who is identified with peace, poverty and a simple lifestyle.
The new pontiff shyly waved to the crowd in St. Peter's Square and marveled that the cardinals had had to look to "the end of the earth" to find a new pope.
The former Jorge Bergoglio asked for prayers for himself, and for retired Pope Benedict XVI, whose resignation paved the way for his election.
After announcing "Habemus Papum," or "We have a pope!" cardinal proto-deacon Jean-Louis Tauran, standing on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on Wednesday, revealed the identity of the new pontiff, using Bergoglio’s Latin name.
"I announce to you with great joy, we have a Pope...the most eminent and most reverend...Lord Jorge Mario Cardinal of Holy Roman Church Bergoglio who has taken the name Francis," Tauran announced in Latin at 8:12 p.m. (2:15 p.m. local time).
Bergoglio reportedly finished second in the voting during the conclave in 2005 that produced Benedict XVI., who last month became the first pope to resign in 600 years.
The archbishop of Buenos Aires has spent nearly his entire career at home in Argentina, overseeing churches and shoe-leather priests.
Latin Americans reacted with joy at the news.
Near the cathedral in Argentina's capital, Martha Ruiz burst into tears after learning that her cardinal Mario Bergoglio has been named pope.
At the St. Francis of Assisi church in the colonial Old San Juan district in Puerto Rico, church secretary Antonia Veloz exchanged jubilant high-fives with the priest.
Cubans expressed surprise and pride of the naming of a Latin American pontiff.
"It's a surprise, even though they were saying it wouldn't be a European," said Marta Delgado, a 61-year-old churchgoer.
"It's a great challenge to be the first Latin American pope. I think it will be a complete change."
Diego Carrasco said Pope Francis' biggest challenge will be cleaning up the church sex abuse scandal.
"The Catholic religion needs reform just like Cuba," Carrasco said.
President Barack Obama issued a statement Wednesday afternoon extending warm wishes to the new pope.
“As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than two thousand years—that in each other we see the face of God,” the president said.
“As the first pope from the Americas, his selection also speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world, and alongside millions of Hispanic Americans, those of us in the United States share the joy of this historic day.”
White smoke rose at 7:06 p.m.(2:06 p.m. local time) Wednesday from a chimney installed at the Sistine Chapel, signifying the selection of the pope.
As the smoke rose, the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica began to ring.
Church bells also rang across Rome in celebration as the tens of thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square cheered loudly.
Earlier in the day, black smoke rose twice from the chapel after earlier votes.
The first two votes were taken Tuesday.
A Vatican spokesman noted earlier Wednesday that only one pope in the past century, Pope Pius XII, was elected on the third ballot, and that was on the eve of World War II.
"We don't have any reason to talk about divisions," or about conflicts, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
The election Wednesday came on the fifth ballot after much shorter than expected conclave.
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan had expressed optimism that the election would be wrapped up quickly.
His spokesman said Dolan wrote a letter to New York priests in which he said, "My guess is that we'd have a new Successor of St. Peter by Thursday evening."
But Chicago Cardinal Francis George, according to his spokeswoman, suggested that the cardinals could still be meeting by Saturday, when conclave rules require them to take a break and spend some time in prayer before resuming voting.
A sea gull that perched atop the chimney on the chapel provided some comic relief earlier in the day.
Dublin tourist Harry Sheeran quipped that the gull was "nearer to heaven than we are."
The conclave that began Tuesday was called after Pope Benedict XVI resigned last month, throwing the church into turmoil and exposing divisions among the cardinals who needed to find a manager to clean up a corrupt Vatican bureaucracy as well as a pastor who could revive Catholicism in a time of growing secularism.