Argentina's Jorge Mario Bergoglio elected new Pope

Vatican City, March 14 (IANS) Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina has been elected the Catholic Church's 266th Pope. He is first Latin American to be pontiff, and will call himself Francis I.

After his election Wednesday night, the 76-year-old Pope appeared on a balcony and greeted crowds in St. Peter's Square, BBC reported. He was the archbishop of Buenos Aires.

He asked the faithful to pray for him. Cheers erupted as he gave a blessing.

Earlier, white smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney announced the new Pope's election. Crowds in St. Peter's Square cheered and bells rang out as the smoke appeared.

Pope Francis replaces Benedict XVI, who resigned Feb 28 at the age of 85, saying he was not strong enough to lead the Church.

He is the first Jesuit to become pope.

A member of the Jesuits and ordained in 1936 after four years as priest, Bergoglio became head of all the Jesuits in Argentina, Xinhua reported.

After studying in Germany, he became bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992 and archbishop in 1998. A strong supporter of helping the poor, Bergoglio was made cardinal in 2001.

French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran announced the Pope's election with the Latin words "Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus Papam" ("I announce to you a great joy. We have a Pope").

In his first address, Pope Francis I told the crowd in St. Peter's Square: "It seems my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world (to choose a pope)."

Moments after the announcement of his election, he tweeted: "Immensely happy to be the new Pope, Francis I."

The 115 cardinals have been in isolation since Tuesday, and held four inconclusive votes.

At least 77 of them, or two-thirds, would have had to vote for a single candidate for him to be elected Pope.

Pope Francis I was a surprise choice and not among a small group of frontrunners before the election, BBC said.

Many observers were also expecting a younger pope to be elected.

Crowds with umbrellas gathered in the square waving flags from around the world.

The Catholic News Agency said people were running through the streets of Rome, hoping to reach St. Peter's Square in time for the appearance of the new Pope.

"It's so emotional. We thought we were going home and the smoke was going to be black," one Catholic told the BBC. "We're so touched. It was really incredible."

BBC said there was elation on the rain-strewn St. Peter's Square. The crowd swelled as flags swayed and the basilica bells rang out.

"Viva il papa!" they chanted, as they waited to learn his name. Once the name was announced, the chants turned to: "Fran-ces-co! Fran-ces-co!"

And then, to trumpet fanfare, the balcony curtains parted and the new Pope appeared to bless them. He asked them to pray with him, and for him. The people roared their approval.

In the crowd was Jenny Uebbing. Originally from Denver but now living in Rome, she said her son John-Paul was one of the last babies Benedict XVI blessed before he resigned.

"We had to be here to say hello to the new papa," she told the BBC. "Now it feels like Easter has come early."

US President Barack Obama sent "warm wishes" on behalf of the American people to the newly elected pontiff, hailing the Argentine as "the first pope from the Americas", BBC reported.

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