VATICAN CITY: Before they even saw his face, Pope Francis had already won over the Roman masses.
The announcement that he would be known by the same name as St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of Italy, sent the crowd into ecstasy.
He did even better with his first words, when the 76-year-old Argentine said the cardinals had reached to the ''end of the earth'' to find the bishop of Rome - recalling the beloved Pope John Paul II, a Polish cardinal who told his first crowd in 1978 that cardinals had called him ''from a far country.''
Francis is first pope from the Americas
VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis is the first ever from the Americas, an austere Jesuit intellectual who modernized Argentina's conservative Catholic church.
Known until Wednesday as Jorge Bergoglio, the 76-year-old is seen as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed. He came close to becoming pope last time, reportedly gaining the second-highest vote, before he bowed out of the running in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.
Bergoglio often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina's capital. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.
He accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy and forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.
''Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit,'' Bergoglio told Argentina's priests last year.
Bergoglio's legacy as cardinal includes his efforts to repair the reputation of a church that lost many followers by failing to openly challenge Argentina's murderous 1976-83 dictatorship. He also worked to recover the church's traditional political influence in society, but his outspoken criticism of President Cristina Kirchner couldn't stop her from imposing socially liberal measures that are anathema to the church, from gay marriage and adoption to free contraceptives for all.
''In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don't baptize the children of single mothers because they weren't conceived in the sanctity of marriage,'' Bergoglio told his priests. ''These are today's hypocrites. Those who clericalise the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it's baptized!''
Bergoglio compared this concept of Catholicism, ''this Church of 'come inside so we make decisions and announcements between ourselves and those who don't come in, don't belong,'' to the Pharisees of Christ's time - people who congratulate themselves while condemning all others. This sort of pastoral work, aimed at capturing more souls and building the flock, was an essential skill for any religious leader in the modern era, said Bergoglio's authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin.
But Bergoglio himself felt most comfortable taking a very low profile, and his personal style was the antithesis of Vatican splendor. ''It's a very curious thing: When bishops meet, he always wants to sit in the back rows. This sense of humility is very well seen in Rome,'' Rubin said before the 2013 conclave to choose Benedict's successor.
Argentine Catholics overjoyed at 1st Latam pope
BUENOS AIRES: Latin Americans reacted with joy, bursting into tears and cheers on Wednesday at news that an Argentine cardinal has become the first pope from the hemisphere.
''It's incredible!'' said Martha Ruiz, 60, who was weeping tears of emotion after learning that the cardinal she knew as Jorge Mario Bergoglio will now be Pope Francis.
She said she had been in many meetings with the cardinal and said, ''He is a man who transmits great serenity.''
There was excitement as well elsewhere.
At the St. Francis of Assisi church in the colonial Old San Juan district in Puerto Rico, church secretary Antonia Veloz exchanged jubilant high-fives with Jose Antonio Cruz, a Franciscan friar.
Cruz said he personally favored the Brazilian candidate, but was pleased with the outcome, saying the new pope would help revitalize the church.
''It's a huge gift for all of Latin America. We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait,'' said Cruz, wearing the brown cassock tied with a rope that is the signature of the Franciscan order. ''Everyone from Canada down to Patagonia is going to feel blessed. This is an event.''