It’s official… The Catholic Church has its first pontiff from the Americas… And his name is Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
The 76-year-old Argentinean church leader, who served as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, appeared on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica shortly after white smoke poured from a chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, signaling that 115 cardinal electors had chosen him to lead the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics as the first pontiff from Latin America.
Bergoglio, the first non-European pope in nearly 1,300 years, is the first pontiff to pick the name Francis, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, revered among Catholics for his work with the poor. St. Francis is considered a reformer of the church, who answered God’s call to “repair my church in ruins.”
During his first public address to 150,000 people packed in St. Peter’s Square, the new pope broke with tradition, asking the crowd to pray for him before blessing the crowd.
“Let us say this prayer, your prayer for me, in silence,” he told the enthusiastic crowd below.
Pope Francis, wearing white papal robes, appeared the crowd shortly after being elected by cardinals in what apparently was the fifth round of voting on the second day of the conclave.
“It seems to me that my brother cardinals have chosen one who is from faraway. But here I am. I would like to thank you for your embrace,” he said.
He’s the first South American pope, representing the largest Catholic population in the world. Latin America is home to 480 million Catholics. By choosing Bergoglio, the cardinals sent a strong message about where the future of the church may lie.
“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,” said President Barack Obama of Bregoglio’s election.
The new pontiff – he 266th pontiff in the Church’s 2,000-year history –will deliver the traditional Angelus blessing from the Vatican on Sunday, according to the Vatican.
Francis will be formally installed as pope at a Mass on Tuesday.