Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected in a surprise choice to bethe new leader ofthe troubled Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday,the first non-European pontiff in nearly 1,300 years, and said he would takethe name Francis I.
Pope Francis, 76, appeared onthe central balcony of St. Peter'’s Besilica just over an hour after white smoke poured from a chimney onthe roof ofthe Sistine Chapel to signal he had been chosen to leadthe world'’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
“Pray for me,”the new pontiff, dressed inthe white robes of a pope for the first time, urgedthe crowd.
The choice of Bergoglio, who becomesthe first Latin American pope, was announced by French cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran withthe Latin words “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus Papam” (“I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope.”)
Francis becomesthe 266th pontiff inthe Church'’s 2,000-year history at a time of great crisis, withthe church under fire over a child sex abuse scandal. Although a conservative, he is seen as a reformer and was not amongthe small group of frontrunners identiflied beforethe election.
He has spoken out strongly against gay marriage, denouncing it in 2010 as “an attempt to destroy God'’s plan”.
Replacing Pope Benedictowho resigned last month, he also overturned one ofthe main assumptions beforethe election, thatthe new pope would be relatively young.
Bergoglio isthe oldest of most ofthe possible candidates and was barely mentioned in feverish speculation aboutthe top contenders beforethe conclave.
Francis isthe first non-European pope since Syrian born Gregory III inthe eighth century, andthe third successive non-Italian pontiff.
Bergoglio isthe first Jesuit to become pope.
The decision by 115 cardinal electors sequestered in a secret conclave inthe Sistine Chapel came sooner than many experts expected becausethere were several frontrunners beforethe vote to replace Pope Benedict.
The cardinals faced a thorny task in finding a leader capable of overcoming crises caused by priestly child abuse and a leak of secret papal documents that uncovered corruption and rivalry insidethe Church government or Curia.
Francis will head a Church also shaken by rivalry from ther churches,the advance of secularism, especially in its European heartland, and allegations of scandal atthe Vatican bank.
The series of crises is thought to have contributed to Benedict'’s decision to becomethe first pontiff in 600 years to abdicate. – Reuters, VATICAN CIT