VATICAN CITY (AP) — Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was elected pope Wednesday, becoming the first pontiff from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium. He chose the name Francis, associating himself with the humble 13th-century Italian preacher who lived a life of poverty.
Looking stunned, Francis shyly waved to the crowd of tens of thousands of people who gathered in St. Peter's Square for the announcement, 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 and humble 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. He also spoke by phone with Benedict after his election and plans to see him in the coming days, the Vatican said.
"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."
Bergoglio had reportedly finished second in the 2005 conclave that produced Benedict — who last month became the first pope to resign in 600 years.
After announcing "Habemus Papam" — "We have a pope!" — a cardinal standing on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on Wednesday revealed the identity of the new pontiff, using his Latin name, and announced he would be called Francis.
The longtime archbishop of Buenos Aires, is the son of middle-class Italian immigrants and is known as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed.
He often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina's capital. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.
Catholics are still buzzing over his speech last year accusing fellow church officials of hypocrisy for forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.
Bergoglio has slowed a bit with age and is feeling the effects of having a lung removed due to infection when he was a teenager.
In a lifetime of teaching and leading priests in Latin America, which has the largest share of the world's Catholics, Bergoglio has also shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly, according to his official biographer, Sergio Rubin.
He showed that humility on Wednesday, saying that before he blessed the crowd he wanted their prayers for him and bowed his head.
"Good night, and have a good rest," he said before going back into the palace.
In choosing to call himself Francis, the new pope was associating himself with the much-loved Italian saint associated with peace, poverty and simplicity. St. Francis founded the Franciscan order.
Francis will celebrate his first Mass as pope in the Sistine Chapel on Thursday, and will be installed officially as pope on Tuesday, according to the Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
Lombardi, also a Jesuit, said he was particularly stunned by the election given that Jesuits typically shun positions of authority in the church, instead offering their work in service to those in power.
But Lombardi said that in accepting the election, Francis must have felt it "a strong call to service," an antidote to all those who speculated that the papacy was about a search for power.
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.
They cheered again when the doors to the loggia opened, and again when Bergoglio's name was announced.
"I can't explain how happy I am right now," said Ben Canete, a 32-year-old Filipino, jumping up and down in excitement.
In Boonville much anticipation was given by the areas Catholic residents who waited patiently halfway across the world for the signal of a new pope. At Saints Peter and Paul School, students watched on television as the new pope was announced.
There was excitement over the election of Pope Francis. It was very moving to see the students pray for him and with him and also to clap for him. It was a very good experience for the students," Saints Peter and Paul School Principal Alan Lammers said.
He also said one of our students reported to their parents that he felt very close to this pope because the new pope asked the the people of the world to pray for him before he prayed for the people.
"To me, that demonstrates this man will be very effective and reaching the people he is shepherding. Choosing the name of Francis is also a very powerful symbol to the people that he understands and identifies with those that the church is called to serve," Lammers said.
Saints Peter and Paul Church Reverend Matthew Flatley said the name the pope chose warmed his heart because of the pope's dedication to the poor and outcasts of the world.
"I am filled with hope and I pray that all Christians, especially Catholics, can experience his sense of renewal. I also pray that we can move into the future with this same hope," Rev. Flatley said.
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.