VATICAN CITY - In a surprise choice, Argentine cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Wednesday, March 13, as a new pope of the Roman Catholic Church to replace Benedict XVI.
"I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope," French cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran said in Latin words.
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The new pontiff, 76, the first from South America, has taken the name Francis.
"I would like to thank you for your embrace, the new pope, dressed in white, said to wild cheers.
"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."
Francis becomes the 266th pontiff in the Catholic Church's 2,000-year history at a time of great crisis and difficulty.
He replaces Benedict XVI, who resigned last month for poor health.
Although a conservative he is seen as a reformer and was not among the small group of frontrunners identified before the election.
He also went against one of the main assumptions before the election, that the new pope would be relatively young.
Francis is the oldest of most of the possible candidates and was barely mentioned in feverish speculation about the top contenders before the conclave.
The naming of Pope Francis came sooner than many experts expected because there were several frontrunners before the vote to replace Benedict.
The cardinals faced a thorny task in finding a leader capable of overcoming crises caused by priestly child abuse and a leak of secret papal documents that uncovered corruption and rivalry inside the Church government or Curia.
The wave of problems is thought to have contributed to Benedict's decision to become the first pontiff in 600 years to abdicate.
The selection of Pope Francis came as a surprise to many jubilant Catholics.
"I wasn't expecting it, but I'm absolutely delighted," John Mcginley, a Scottish priest from Glasgow who traveled to see the conclave, told Reuters.
"It's a very unique moment. There is a great sense of unity here.
"It's great they have come to a decision about who will lead the Church," he said.
Thousands of people sheltering from heavy rain under a sea of umbrellas had occupied the square all day to await the selection and the crowd swelled as soon as the white smoke emerged.
They cheered wildly and raced towards the basilica as the smoke billowed from a narrow makeshift chimney and St Peter's bells rang.
The excited crowd cheered even more loudly when Francis appeared, the first pontiff to take that name. "Viva il Papa (pope)" they chanted.
"It's a great moment in history, something I can tell my mum," said David Brasch, 30, from Brisbane, Australia.
"He's got to get the child abuse under control, I don't know how they're going to do that. He's got to unite 1.2 billion people."
The secret conclave began on Tuesday night with a first ballot and four ballots were held on Wednesday. Francis obtained the required two thirds majority in the fifth ballot.
Following a split ballot when they were first shut away amid the chapel's Renaissance splendor on Tuesday evening, the cardinal electors held a first full day of deliberations on Wednesday. Black smoke rose after the morning session to signal no decision.
The previous four popes were all elected within two or three days.
Seven ballots have been required on average over the last nine conclaves. Benedict was clear frontrunner in 2005 and elected after only four ballots.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net