Jorge Mario Bergoglio, an Argentine cardinal of Italian family descent, has been elected by the conclave to be the next leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics as Pope Francis I.

The tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s square exploded in cheers as the 76-year-old stepped out onto the balcony before St. Peter’s square in Rome wearing the all-white vestments of the Catholic leader.

Francis I is the first Jesuit pontiff and the first non-European leader of the church in more than 1,000 years.

PHOTOS: Rome Awaits the New Pope

“I would like to thank you for your embrace,” said the new pope.

Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires in 1936. His father, an immigrant from Italy, was a railway worker. Bergoglio, one of five children, had early dreams of becoming a chemist, but eventually chose the path to priesthood when he entered the Society of Jesus in 1958.

White smoke streamed from the Vatican chimney in Rome on Tuesday at 7 p.m. local time– just over an hour earlier — indicating that the crimson-robed cardinals locked in the Sistine Chapel had elected the 266th pope in the history of the Catholic Church.

Filled with Italians, tourists, and faithful waving flags, St. Peter’s Square resounded with cries: “Bianca! Bianca!” (White! White!) as the smoke continued to pour out.

PHOTOS: Inside the Sistine Chapel

The new Pope was announced by the Protodeacon, the French cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran with the famous Latin formula “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus papam” (I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope!).

Photo: Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Credit: Corbis