White Smoke Argentinian Bishop Becomes Pope Francis

Cardinals at the conclave in the Vatican on Wednesday voted to elect the first non-European pope in over 1,000 years. Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina will go by the name of Pope Francis.

REUTERS

White smoke emerged from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel at 7:07 p.m. and the bells of St. Peter's Basilica began tolling early Wednesday night, signalling a new pope had been chosen. The 115 cardinals participating in the Vatican conclave decided on a new pope on the second day and after five votes, picking Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as Benedict XVI's successor, the first non-European to be at the helm of the Catholic Church in more than 1,000 years.

The 76-year-old, the first pope from Latin America, has chosen the name Francis and will now be the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics.

The top ranking cardinal deacon, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran of France, had said earlier, "I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope."

"Brothers and sisters, buona sera," the new pontifex said as he appeared on the balcony and the crowds cheered him on. Francis thanked Benedict XVI and prayed for him.

But the new pope also shared a bit of humor on Wednesday, saying that "my brother cardinals have come almost to the ends of the earth to get him." "But here we are," he added with a modest smile. "Pray for me, we'll see each other soon." "And now let us begin this journey, the bishop and people."

Despite bad weather, thousands of people had gathered on St. Peter's Square to witness the white smoke as it emerged from the Sistine Chapel. The onlookers sang, cheered, waved flags and held crucifixes in the air.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel greeted Bergoglio's election. "I am especially pleased together with Christians in Latin America that, now, for the first time, one of their own has been chosen to lead the Catholic Church," she said. "Even far outside the Catholic form of Christianity, people expect a sense of orientation from him -- not just on questions of faith, but also when it comes to peace, justice and the integrity of Creation." Merkel said she wished Francis good health and strength in his services on behalf of faith and the well-being of humanity.

'Champion of the Poor'

Already during the last conclave in 2005, Bergoglio had emerged as the strongest challenger to Joseph Ratzinger. But with his slightly frail health, the Argentinian Jesuit hadn't been considered an obvious front-runner this time around.

The Archbishop of Buenos Aires and Primate of Argentina has generally preferred to appear as inconspicuously as possible in public, and is often referred to as a "champion of the poor." In recent years, Bergoglio often took aim at the governments of Néstor and Cristina Kirchner. He criticized corruption and poverty and also unsuccessfully fought against the codification of same-sex marriage in Argentina. The son of a railway worker who moved from Italy to Argentina, Bergoglio first gained the respect of the cardinals after leading a synode of bishops in Rome in 2001.

He succeeds Benedict XVI, who announced his resignation as pope on Feb. 11, citing age and health-related problems. He then retreated to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.

For some, including Joseph Ratzinger's 89-year-old brother Georg, the news came as a surprise. "I have no impression of him," Georg Ratzinger told the German news agency DPA. Bergoglio, he said, "wasn't on my list." Ratzinger also said his brother had never discussed him. "His name never came up."

Check back on Thursday morning for full coverage of Pope Francis' election from Germany.

dsl -- with wire reports

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