Roman Catholic cardinals made history Wednesday as they selected the Argentine Jorge Bergoglio as the new pontiff, the first from the Americas, the first Jesuit and the first to take the name Francis.
On the second day of the conclave, white smoke pouring from a chimney atop the Sistine Chapel a few minutes past 7 p.m. local time sent tens of thousands of people braving a cold rain in St. Peter's Square into shouts of joy. Many shouted "Habemus Papam!" Latin for "We have a pope!" as the bells of St. Peter's Basilica rang out across the square.
An hour later, Bergoglio, 76, wearing a pope's white garments, introduced himself in Italian to the world, waving to the mass of people in the square and marveling that his fellow cardinals had had to look to "the end of the earth" to find a new bishop of Rome. He took the name Francis, after the much-beloved Italian saint Francis of Assisi, who is identified with peace, poverty and a simple lifestyle.
In an act of humility, he first asked for prayers for himself and for the retired Pope Benedict XVI, whose resignation -- the first by a pontiff in 600 years -- stunned the Catholic world and set up the meeting of 115 cardinals that brought the first Jesuit and the first from Latin America to the throne of St. Peter.
"And now let us begin this journey, the bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome, which presides in charity over all the churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another," he said.
Booming chants of "Long live the pope!" arose from the throngs of faithful in the square, many with tears in their eyes, as word spread of the selection. Moments earlier, the crowds went wild as Vatican and Italian military bands marched through the square and up the broad steps of the basilica, followed by crisp lines of Swiss Guards in their silver helmets and full regalia.
They played the introduction to the Vatican and Italian anthems, and the huge crowd joined in, waving flags from countries around the world.
In New York City, the extraordinary moment was not lost on a crowd of several hundred gathered at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan around a flat-screen television.
One of them, Maria Pia Del Neri, 23, of Buenos Aires, said she was stunned that her city's cardinal had been selected.
"I'm so proud because Latin America is such an important continent," she said. "Our popes have always been European and it fills my soul that one of my own has been selected. For too long Latin America has been ignored. We've had very few papal visits and we are growing in our faith and new believers . . ."
The Vatican announced Pope Francis' installation will be Tuesday -- less than two weeks before the church and Christians around the world celebrate Easter. Vice President Joe Biden said he would lead the American delegation to Rome for the installation.
The archbishop of Buenos Aires, the son of Italian immigrants, has spent nearly his entire career at home in Argentina, overseeing churches and parish priests. He will now shepherd the world's 1.2 billion Catholics at a time of growing demands for reform in a number of areas, including a greater role for women, turmoil within the Vatican hierarchy, and lingering impact of the sexual abuse scandal.
Like other Jesuit intellectuals, Bergoglio has focused on social outreach. Catholics are still buzzing over his speech last year accusing fellow church officials of hypocrisy for forgetting that Jesus bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes. He is also known for his outreach to AIDS victims.
Despite what were believed to be deep divisions among the cardinals at the conclave, they came to a conclusion just over 24 hours after their closed meetings began in the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday. They defied predictions of a potentially drawn-out session to elect the 266th pontiff.
There was no clear front-runner going into the conclave, with speculation that New York's ebullient Cardinal Timothy Dolan or Boston's stoic Sean O'Malley could be picked. The backdrop to the conclave was a church in a state of turmoil after Benedict's surprise resignation.
Bergoglio was chosen on the second day of voting and the fifth round of votes. Benedict was also elected on the second day of the conclave in 2005, after four ballots.
In the Sistine Chapel, when the tally reached the necessary 77 votes to make Bergoglio pope, Dolan said, the cardinals erupted in applause. And when he accepted the momentous responsibility thrust upon him -- "there wasn't a dry eye in the place," the American cardinal said.
After the princes of the church had congratulated the new pope one by one, other Vatican officials wanted to do the same, but Francis preferred to go outside and greet the throngs of faithful.
"Maybe we should go to the balcony first," Dolan recalled the pope as saying.
One theology student from Argentina who was in St. Peter's Square said he knew little about Bergoglio, but was elated with the choice. "It's incredible," Manuel Valentini, 28, said in Spanish. "It's moving that he asked people to pray for him."
In choosing Bergoglio, the cardinals showed they decided they did not need a younger pope who might reign for decades, but rather a seasoned pastor who would draw followers to the faith.
His elevation is also seen as a nod to the growing importance of Latinos in the church. Latinos are the largest group among Catholics, and are making up a growing proportion of Catholics in the United States. Their vigorous presence in the church can be seen in parishes across Long Island, where Spanish Masses are commonplace.
For the Catholic faithful, Wednesday's selection was deeply felt and pointed to a brighter future.
"I can't explain how happy I am right now," said Ben Canete, a 32-year-old Filipino, jumping up and down in excitement.
With Angelica Marin,
Maria Alvarez and AP