With unusual speed and great fanfare, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, an Argentine cardinal of Italian family descent, became Pope Francis on Wednesday.
The election of the new pope, in five ballots over two days, was announced on Wednesday at 7 p.m. by a stream of white smoke that poured out of the Vatican chimney in Rome, signaling that the crimson-robed cardinals locked in the Sistine Chapel had elected the 266th pope in the history of the Catholic Church.
Afterward, tolling bells confirmed that the new pope had been elected.
BLOG: New Pope Is Argentinian Bergoglio
At 8:12 p.m., French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the senior cardinal in the order of deacons, stepped onto the central loggia of St. Peter's Basilica and proclaimed in Latin: "Habemus Papam!" - "We have a pope!"
Then he announced the name of Cardinal Bergoglio and said he had picked the name of Francis.
The tens of thousands of people gathered in a chilly and rainy St. Peter's square exploded in cheers.
After a few minutes, Pope Francis, 76, emerged from behind the red curtains wearing the all-white vestments of the Catholic leader to deliver his first apostolic blessing.
"Brother and sisters, good evening," said Francis. "It seems the conclave went to the other side of the world to find a new pope."
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The crowd, with eyes fixed on the burgundy-draped balcony, chanted: "Viva il Papa!" or "Long live the pope!"
Francis asked the faithful to pray for his predecessor, who was reportedly watching the event on TV.
He then intoned the Lord's Prayer.
"Pray for me, I'll see you soon. Good night and rest well," he said.
Bergoglio is the first ever pontiff from the Americas and the first non-European pope in over 1,300 years.
He was born in Buenos Aires on Dec. 17, 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.
PHOTOS: Inside the Sistine Chapel
Barely mentioned in the speculation about the candidates for papacy, the soft-spoken Bergoglio is known as a humble man who refused the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed.
Indeed, although he is considered doctrinally conservative like his predecessor Benedict XVI, he is also seen as a reformer for his strong support of helping the poor.
Tonight he will sleep in Room 201 at the yellow-stone residence Santa Martha House inside the walls of Vatican City. The room, the best of the entire complex, has an elaborately-carved wooden bed with a bedstead embossed with a figure of Christ suffering on the cross and additional rooms to host meetings.
He will stay there for some weeks, while the apartment inside the Apostolic Palace undergoes some renovation work.
Photo: Rossella Lorenzi