Argentinian cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has become the first ever pope from the Americas in the history of the Church, taking the papal name of Francis I.
French cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran made the announcement from the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica.
He is the first non-European pope in more than 1,200 years, a choice that reflects the shifting demographics of the Roman Catholic faith.
Bergoglio, 76, is the archbishop of Buenos Aires and is believed to be the runner-up to Benedict XVI at the last conclave in 2005.
He chose the name of Pope Francis I for his pontificate and was greeted by thousands of cheering faithful as he stepped out on a balcony overlooking St Peter’s Square to be presented to the world for the first time as pope.
‘‘Brothers and sisters, good evening,’’ Bergoglio said in Italian in his first words to the crowd.
White smoke billowed from a Sistine Chapel chimney to signal Pope Francis' election, replacing frail Benedict XVI as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
The tens of thousands gathered in St Peter’s Square erupted into cheers, and the bells started ringing. As news spread through the Vatican and the wider city, excited crowds scrambled to join the already busy square, agog to see who might appear on the balcony of St Peter’s.
He is the 266th pope in the Catholic Church’s 2000-year history.
Cardinals have been locked up behind the Vatican walls and cut off from the outside world since Tuesday, meeting in a sublime Renaissance chapel swept for recording devices and installed with scramblers to prevent any communication.
The decision came after five votes - longer than for Benedict’s succession to late Pope John Paul II in 2005, which was decided in just four votes.
The historic election after Benedict’s abrupt resignation last month was being followed around the world on live television as well as through social media and smartphone apps - this is the first ever tweeted conclave.
The smoke from the chimney was produced by burning the ballots and setting off smoke flares in two stoves specially installed in a corner of the chapel.
It was another wet day in Rome, and the Italians’ reckless use of umbrellas combined with pilgrims lifting cameras over their heads to capture the crowd made the square a risk to limb, if not life.
About an hour after the white smoke, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the senior cardinal-deacon, announced in Latin that he had tidings of great joy: ‘‘Habemus papam’’ (we have a pope!‘‘). He then introduced the 265th successor to St Peter by his name and his chosen papal name, Francis.
After the announcement to the cardinal voters in the Sistine Chapel, a new pope must accept the election and pronounce his new name. He then goes to the ‘‘room of tears’’, a small room by the Sistine Chapel, so named for the emotional impact new popes often feel, and there he changes his red cassock for a white one, and other papal vestments.
Next there is a brief prayer ceremony with the cardinals, each of whom then approaches the pope and promises obedience. Each of the cardinals present in the Sistine Chapel comes up to the new pope, paying him homage and promising him obedience, then they sing together the ‘‘Te Deum’’ hymn of thanksgiving to God.
Although few Vatican watchers expected white smoke on Wednesday, crowds gathered during the afternoon, anticipation rising. At 4.20pm the big screens around the square lit up, overlooking a sea of umbrellas through which the faithful patiently peered. By 5pm Roman time, the earliest a successful ballot could be expected, the square was full, pilgrims chattering with each other or waiting silently, eyes fixed on the screens. Several times a seagull perched on top of the chimney, leading well-wishers to hope it did not suddenly inhale chemical-filled smoke.
- with agencies