ROME (CNN) — Pope Francis, the first non-European pontiff of the modern era, revealed himself to the world from a balcony at the Vatican on Wednesday.
Jorge Bergoglio, who served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, took the name Francis shortly after being elected by cardinals in what was apparently the fifth round of voting on the second day of the conclave.
“As you know, the duty of the conclave was to appoint a bishop of Rome,” Francis told a cheering crowd of thousands packed into St. Peter’s Square.
“It seems to me that my brother cardinals have chosen one who is from faraway. … Here I am. I would like to thank you for your embrace.”
The new pope called on the thousands packed into the square — and those watching around the world — to pray for him before he delivered a blessing.
Bergoglio, 76, is the first pope to take the name after St. Francis of Assisi, revered among Catholics for his work with the poor.
The new pontiff is considered a straight shooter who calls things as he sees them, and a follower of the church’s most conservative wing.
As cardinal, he clashed with the government of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner over his opposition to gay marriage and free distribution of contraceptives.
Voice of the poor
Bergoglio also becomes the first pope from Latin America.
With its approximately 480 million adherents, Latin America is home to an overwhelming plurality of the world’s Catholics. By choosing him, the cardinals sent a strong message about where the future of the church may lie.
According to a profile by CNN Vatican analyst John Allen and published by the National Catholic Reporter, Francis was born in Buenos Aires to an Italian immigrant father.
He is known for his simplicity. He chose to live in an apartment rather that the archbishop’s palace, passed on a chauffeured limousine, took the bus to work and cooked his own meals, Allen wrote.
Francis has a reputation for being a voice for the poor.
Word of the election of Pope Francis quickly spread around the globe, with everyone from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to U.S. President Barack Obama offering congratulations.
“As the first pope from the Americas, his selection also speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world, and alongside millions of Hispanic Americans, those of us in the United States share the joy of this historic day,” Obama said.
Ban said the new pope shares common goals with the United Nations, from the promotion of peace to social justice.
“We also share the conviction that we can only resolve the interconnected challenges of today’s world through dialogue,” he said.
Nowhere was the reaction to Bergoglio’s selecton as pope more surprising than in Latin America, with a plurality of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
“I am truly still very surprised…not just that a Latino pope came out, but that he is an Argentinian from Buenos Aires,” the Rev. Eduardo Mangiarotti told CNN en Espanol.
What’s in a name?
Bergoglio’s selection of the name of Pope Francis is “the most stunning” choice and “precedent shattering,” Allen said. “The new pope is sending a signal that this will not be business as usual.”
The name symbolizes “poverty, humility, simplicity and rebuilding the Catholic Church,” Allen said.
St. Francis of Assisi was born in 1181 or 1182 the son of a rich Italian cloth merchant, according to the Vatican website.
After “a carefree adolescence and youth,” Francis joined the military and was taken prisoner. He was freed after becoming ill, and when he returned to Assisi, Italy, a spiritual conversion began, and he abandoned his worldly lifestyle.
In a famous episode, Christ on the Cross came to life three times in the small Church of St. Damian and told him: “Go, Francis, and repair my Church in ruins,” Pope Benedict XVI said, according to Vatican’s website.