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 more than 100,000 people who packed a rain-soaked 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 and help rebuild a church stained by scandal.
The cardinal electors overcame deep divisions about the future of the church 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 stunning resignation paved the way for the conclave that brought the first Jesuit to the papacy. Francis 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 from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica.
“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, but here we are. Thank you for the welcome,” he said.
Across the planet, Latin Americans burst into tears and jubilation at news that the region, which counts 40 percent of the world’s Catholics, finally had a pope to call its own.
“It’s a huge gift for all of Latin America. We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait,” said Jose Antonio Cruz, a Franciscan friar at the St. Francis of Assisi church in the colonial Old San Juan district in Puerto Rico.
Bergoglio had reportedly finished second in the 2005 conclave that produced Benedict — who last month became the first pope to resign in 600 years. The speed with which he was elected pope this time around indicates that — even though he is 76 and has slowed down from the effects of having a lung removed as a teenager — he still had the trust of cardinals to do the job.
After announcing ‘’Habemus Papam” — ‘’We have a pope!” — a cardinal standing on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on 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.
Catholics are still buzzing over his speech last year accusing fellow church officials of hypocrisy for forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.
In a lifetime of teaching and leading priests in Latin America, which has the largest share of the world’s Catholics, Bergoglio has also shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly, according to his official biographer, Sergio Rubin.
Bergoglio, who as a teen lost a lung to infection, showed that humility on Wednesday, saying that before he blessed the crowd he wanted their prayers for him and then he bowed his head amid the silence from the crowd.
“Good night, and have a good rest,” he said before going back into the palace.
In choosing to call himself Francis, the new pope was associating himself with the much-loved Italian saint from Assisi associated with peace, poverty and simplicity. St. Francis was born to a wealthy family but later renounced his wealth and founded the Franciscan order of friars; he wandered about the countryside preaching to the people in very simple language.
He was so famed for his sanctity that he was canonized just two years after his death in 1226.
St. Francis Xavier is another important namesake. One of the 16th century founders of the Jesuit order, Francis Xavier was a legendary missionary who spread the faith as far as India and Japan — giving the new pope’s name selection possibly further symbolic resonance in an age when the church is struggling to maintain its numbers.
Francis will celebrate his first Mass as pope in the Sistine Chapel on Thursday, and will be installed officially as pope on Tuesday, according to the Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.