White smoke is seen from the roof of the Sistine Chapel indicating that the College of Cardinals have elected a new Pope on March 13, 2013. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Newly elected Pope Francis appears on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY - Throngs jamming St. Peter's Square roared with joy as Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, stepped onto the balcony as the new pope and leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
"Brothers and sisters, good evening," Francis said to wild cheers. "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."
The crowd grew silent as Bergoglio, 76, who will be called Pope Francis, recited the Lord's Prayer and a Hail Mary. He asked the crowd to pray for him before he blessed them.
"Let us pray for the whole world," he told the crowd.
Moments later, the official Twitter account for the pope tweeted: "Habemus Papam Franciscum" -- We have Pope Francis.
Francis' papacy is one of firsts: He is the first Jesuit, the first non-European in modern times and first Latin American. He also is the first to take the name Francis, for the saint devoted to the poor.
Bergoglio reportedly received the second-most votes after Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 papal election. Despite being Argentina's top church official, Bergoglio never lived in the ornate church mansion in Buenos Aires, preferring a simple bed in a downtown room heated by a small stove. For years, he took public transportation around the city and cooked his own meals.
The new pope had a lung removed due to infection when he was a teenager.
The 115 voting cardinals who chose him took five ballots over two days to reach their decision. That came after a week of intense meetings and on the heels of the surprising resignation of Pope Benedict XVI last month, the first pope to step down in some 600 years.
As news spread of the pope's election, huge crowds rushed toward the square. The streets surrounding the square suddenly resembled the running of the bulls in Pamplona, with all but the old and babies breaking into a trot.
Bergoglio became pope the moment he accepted the election results and selected the name he will use as pope. He was then led to the Room of Tears where he was fitted with the appropriate vestments and given time to pray privately about the awesome responsibility.
Then he returned to the Sistine Chapel where the other 114 cardinals each individually pledged their allegiance to him. After that, the cardinal deacon steped out onto the balcony first to announce "Habemus Papam!" -- We have a pope!
"Our Muslim brothers go to Mecca, well if you're Catholic this is Mecca, it's almost too much to comprehend," said Mike McCormac of Bismarck, N.D., standing in St. Peter's Square. "We were told by a friend to come tonight. We are so glad we did."
David Lewellyn nodded excitedly as the rain hammered his umbrella. "The pope is a world leader, which makes this event of major significance. It's incredible."
McCormac smiled. "I'll give you another word. It's uplifting."
One man waved a Swiss flag overhead as the bells of Rome tolled and the crowds cheered. "I came just to see this moment," said Michael Flueckiger of Bern. "It's just incredible."
American Catholics back home were just as excited. Millie Teda, 75, had stopped in at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York after visiting a sick friend. She said she'd been praying that an announcement about a pope would come while she was there.
"Oh my goodness - Oh thank you, thank you, thank you," Teda said upon hearing the news. "You know, we need some change," Teda said. Catholics need someone who will "go more to the poor people, to the young people because we are losing young people."
Francis will have a full plate. Benedict, who did not participate in the election, cited health reasons in becoming the first pope to step down in some 600 years. In his eight years the church solidified its message on core Catholic values such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage, and saw gains in membership in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
But his departure comes at a time when the church has lost membership in Europe and the United States, is dealing with financial mismanagement of church assets and still trying to overcome the "scourge" as Benedict described the past cases of priests who molested children.
Still, the mood of the faithful in front of St. Peter's Basilica was celebratory following the news. The first vote took place late Tuesday. Two morning votes Wednesday brought similar results -- black smoke from the Sistine Chapel's chimney that meant no decision on a new pope had been reached.
Some 6,000 journalists from around the world were here for the announcement, from bloggers in Mexico to U.S. network anchors. It did not compare to the last conclave in 2005, which was preceded by a funeral attended by hundreds of thousands of people for the much beloved John Paul II, who had sat on the throne of St. Peter since 1976.