VATICAN CITY (AP/ABC7) - Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was elected pope Wednesday and chose the name Francis, becoming the first pontiff from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium.
Looking stunned, Francis shyly waved to the crowd of tens of thousands of people who gathered in St. Peter's Square, 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 pastor who would draw followers to the faith. The cardinal electors overcame deep divisions 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 surprising resignation paved the way for the conclave that brought the first Jesuit to the papacy.
"Brothers and sisters, good evening," Francis said to wild cheers in his first public remarks as pontiff. "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. Thank you for the welcome."
Tens of thousands of people who braved cold rain to watch the smokestack atop the Sistine Chapel jumped in joy when white smoke poured out a few minutes past 7 p.m., many shouting "Habemus Papam!" or "We have a pope!" - as the bells of St. Peter's Basilica and churches across Rome pealed.
Chants of "Long live the pope!" arose from the throngs of faithful, many with tears in their eyes. Crowds went wild as the Vatican and Italian military bands marched through the square and up the steps of the basilica, followed by Swiss Guards in silver helmets and full regalia.
“On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I offer our warm wishes to His Holiness Pope Francis as he ascends to the Chair of Saint Peter and begins his papacy,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than two thousand years-that in each other we see the face of God.”
ABC7 spoke with Washington Archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was one of 115 cardinals who voted on the new pope.
While Cardinal Wuerl called the selection of pope "the work of the Holy Spirit," he says the cardinals specifically talked about finding a new leader from outside of Europe.
"It's time to find a pope from the Western Hemisphere. The church is 2,000 years old. We the new world, we're 500 years old and there's a sense that it was time for the cardinals to look to another part of the world other than just Europe," says Cardinal Wuerl.
Before Wednesday's vote, Cardinal Wuerl was one of three American popes named potential candidates.
Bishop Loverde of the Arlington Diocese released a statement, which in part reads, "This is a very exciting and hope-filled time for Catholics the world over and most assuredly for our brothers and sisters in Latin America who cannot but take great delight in the election of a native son from Argentina."
They played the introduction to the Vatican and Italian anthems and the crowd, which numbered at least 50,000, joined in, waving flags from countries around the world.
"I can't explain how happy I am right down," said Ben Canete, a 32-year-old Filipino, jumping up and down in excitement.
“Pope Francis is more than just the successor to Benedict XVI; he is the successor to all those who came before him in an unbroken line going all the way back to Peter,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl in a statement. “In Pope Francis, we recognize the successor to Peter and the visible sign of the unity of the Church spread throughout the whole world. He is the touchstone for the mission, message and tradition of the Church.”
Elected on the fifth ballot, Francis was chosen in one of the fastest conclaves in years, remarkable given there was no clear front-runner going into the vote and that the church had been in turmoil following the upheaval unleashed by Pope Benedict XVI's surprise resignation.
A winner must receive 77 votes, or two-thirds of the 115, to be named pope.
For comparison's sake, Benedict was elected on the fourth ballot in 2005 - but he was the clear front-runner going into the vote. Pope John Paul II was elected on the eighth ballot in 1978 to become the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.
Patrizia Rizzo ran down the main boulevard to the piazza with her two children as soon as she heard the news on the car radio. "I parked the car ... and dashed to the square, she said. "It's so exciting, as Romans we had to come."
“The Catholic University of America is proud to congratulate Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio on his election as Pope,” says John Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America in a statement. “We are excited to move forward under the leadership of Pope Francis I and we pray that the Catholic Church will grow under his guidance in wisdom.”
Latin Americans reacted with joy, bursting into tears and cheers on Wednesday at news that an Argentine cardinal has become the first pope from the hemisphere.
"It's incredible!" said Martha Ruiz, 60, who was weeping tears of emotion after learning that the cardinal she knew as Jorge Mario Bergoglio will now be Pope Francis.
She said she had been in many meetings with the cardinal and said, "He is a man who transmits great serenity."
Cars honked their horns as the news spread and television announcers screamed with elation and surprise and Catholics began flooding toward the cathedral, where Ana Maria Perez and a few dozen other women had been waiting for the announcement.
"He is going to be the pope of the street," she said, referring to Bergoglio's habit of taking the subways alongside working class Argentines.
There was excitement as well elsewhere.
At the St. Francis of Assisi church in the colonial Old San Juan district in Puerto Rico, church secretary Antonia Veloz exchanged jubilant high-fives with Jose Antonio Cruz, a Franciscan friar.
Cruz said he personally favored the Brazilian candidate, but was pleased with the outcome, saying the new pope would help revitalize the church.
"It's a huge gift for all of Latin America. We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait," said Cruz, wearing the brown cassock tied with a rope that is the signature of the Franciscan order. "Everyone from Canada down to Patagonia is going to feel blessed. This is an event."
"This is something exciting," the 50-year-old Veloz said of the new Argentine pope. "I'm speechless." In Santo Domingo, the bells pealed in the city's main cathedral in the colonial district.
In Panama City, public relations executive Nelsa Aponte said with teary eyes, "This made me cry, I had to get out my handkerchief."
"We have a new pastor, and for the first time, he is from Latin America."
Armando Connell, 54, a doorman at a luxury hotel in Panama City, expressed hope that "the new pope will be closer to us, and will show more concern about the poverty many of us suffer."
In Mexico City, pediatrician Victor De la Rosa, 64, said the decision "is going to allow Latin America to be more involved in the church's decisions, above all in modernizing the church."