The new pope was bishop of the Buenos Aires diocese in a region with the largest concentration of Catholics in the world—a reflection that part of the Church's destiny lies in lands outside Europe, for centuries its stronghold.
The new pontiff, 76 years old, emerged to the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica to the wild cheers of the crowd below that bellowed "Viva il Papa," or "Long Live the Pope."
The church's first non-European pope in hundreds of years—and the first from the Americas—marks a watershed moment in the papacy at a time when the church has lost followers amid a rise in secularism, evangelical Protestantism and a string of sex-abuse scandals and divisions within the Vatican hierarchy.
The groundbreaking choice fits with the unusual nature of the election: Pope Benedict XVI's decision to become the first pope to resign in more than seven centuries.
In a report, the Wall Street Journal noted that the new pope emerged just over an hour after white rose from the smokestack of the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday afternoon, signaling that the cardinals gathered had reached an agreement on a new leader for the Roman Catholic Church in just five rounds of voting.
The fast decision likely signals that much of the consensus among the 115 cardinals who gathered Tuesday into the chapel for voting was reached in the pre-conclave discussions that have taken place in the two weeks since Benedict XVI stepped down from his post on Feb. 28.
Within minutes of the smoke puffs, St. Peter's Square was packed with rejoicing crowds. "I'm very excited. I've been waiting four hours for this moment," said Lucia Carbona, 45, teacher from Florence