Newly elected Pope Francis appears on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Marco della Cava, Eric J. Lyman and John Bacon, USA TODAY
VATICAN CITY - Throngs jamming St. Peter's Square roared with joy as Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, was selected as the new pope and leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
Bergoglio, 76, is the first Jesuit and first Latin American pope. He also the first to take the pope name of Francis, for the saint devoted to the poor.
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The 115 voting cardinals took five votes over two days to reach their decision, which 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 resembles the running of the bulls in Pamplona, with all but the old and babies breaking into a trot.
At the entrance to the square however they ran into elaborate police barricades which forced people into tiny inlets that quickly became a danger crush. "Calma, calma!" the cries went up.
The chosen cardinal 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 pledge their allegiance to him. After that, the cardinal deacon steped out onto the balcony first to announce "Habemus Papem!" -- 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 McCormack of Bismark, N.D. "We were told by a friend to come tonight. We are so glad we did."
David Lewellyn nodded excitedly as the rain hammered their umbrellas. "The pope is a world leader, which makes this event of major significance. It's incredible."
McCormack smiled. "I'll give you another word. It's uplifting."
One man waves 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 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."
The new pope 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.
A scholar of the church, Benedict did not inspire similar worldwide passion, and because he departed voluntarily the conclave lacked the emotional drama of 2005. But it was not short on surprises.
During a week of supposedly private meetings among the cardinals to discuss both church matters and the merits of various papal candidates, minutes of those meetings were secretly leaked to Italian media. Meanwhile, U.S. cardinals, who were holding regular press briefings, were ordered to stop, effectively ending all communication between clergy and press as the conclave neared.
While weeks ago there had been talk of the possibility of a pope from the church's growth area - Latin America and Africa - the candidate list expanded in the final days to include whispers about a first-ever American pope, with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York a leading contender.
Contributing: Cathy Lynn Grossman