VATICAN CITY: Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was elected pope Wednesday, becoming the first pontiff from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium.
He chose the name Francis, associating himself with the humble 13th-century Italian preacher who lived a life of poverty.
Looking stunned, Francis shyly waved to the crowd of tens of thousands of people who gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the announcement, marveling that the cardinals needed to look to “the end of the earth” to find a bishop of Rome.
In choosing a 76-year-old pope, the cardinals clearly decided that they didn’t need a vigorous, young pope who would reign for decades but rather a seasoned, popular and humble pastor who would draw followers to the faith. The cardinal electors overcame deep divisions to select the 266th pontiff in a remarkably fast, five-ballot conclave.
Francis asked for prayers for himself, and for retired Pope Benedict XVI, whose surprising resignation paved the way for the conclave that brought the first Jesuit to the papacy. He also spoke by phone with Benedict after his election and plans to see him in the coming days, the Vatican said.
“Brothers and sisters, good evening,” Francis said to wild cheers in his first public remarks as pontiff. “You know that the work of the conclave is to give a bishop to Rome. It seems as if my brother cardinals went to find him from the end of the earth. Thank you for the welcome.”
After announcing “Habemus Papam” – “We have a pope!” – a cardinal standing on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica Wednesday revealed the identity of the new pontiff, using his Latin name, and announced he would be called Francis.
The longtime archbishop of Buenos Aires is the son of middle-class Italian immigrants and is known as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed.
He often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina’s capital. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.
He showed that humility Wednesday, saying that before he blessed the crowd he wanted their prayers for him and bowed his head.
“Good night, and have a good rest,” he said before leaving the balcony.
In choosing to call himself Francis, the new pope was associating himself with the much-loved Italian saint associated with peace, poverty and simplicity. St. Francis founded the Franciscan order.
Francis will celebrate his first Mass as pope in the Sistine Chapel Thursday, and will be installed officially as pope Tuesday, according to Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
Tens of thousands of people who braved cold rain to watch the smokestack atop the Sistine Chapel jumped in joy when white smoke poured out a few minutes past 7 p.m., many shouting “Habemus Papam!” as the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica and churches across Rome pealed.
They cheered again when the doors to the loggia opened, and again when Bergoglio’s name was announced.
Elected on the fifth ballot, Francis was chosen in one of the fastest conclaves in years, remarkable given there was no clear front-runner going into the vote and that the church had been in turmoil following the upheaval unleashed by Benedict surprise resignation.
A winner must receive 77 votes, or two-thirds of the 115, to be named pope. Jubilant Argentines poured into churches to celebrate the surprise announcement that one of their own was the first Latin American pope, and many hoped he would bring change to a church in crisis.
People throughout the mainly Roman Catholic country rushed to churches, some crying and praying that the 76-year-old Jesuit could bolster faith in the Vatican after a series of scandals.
“I hope he changes all the luxury that exists in the Vatican, that he steers the church in a more humble direction, something closer to the Gospel,” said Jorge Andres Lobato, a 73-year-old retired state prosecutor.
Few Argentines thought Bergoglio, known for his ascetic lifestyle and dedication to the poor, would be chosen.
Within minutes, Twitter feeds went wild with the phrase “The hand of God, again,” in reference to football star Diego Maradona, one of Argentina’s best-known sons, who famously used the phrase after being accused of using his hand to score a goal against England in the 1986 World Cup.