CARDINAL Jorge Mario Bergoglio was last night elected as the leader of the Roman Catholic church, taking the name Pope Francis and becoming the first pontiff to hail from South America.
The former archbishop of Buenos Aires emerged onto the balcony overlooking St Peter’s Square in Rome and joked with the waiting crowd that his fellow cardinals had gone to “the ends of the earth” in their search for a new pope.
The 76-year-old will be formally installed in a mass on 19 March.
The 115 cardinals made the surprise decision to elect Bergoglio with a two-thirds majority after just five rounds of voting. Although it is thought he came second in the 2005 papal conclave, Bergoglio was seen as an outsider in this year’s contest to replace Benedict XVI, who stepped down last month.
The first non-European pope in 1,300 years led prayers and told the crowd that the church is setting off on a “journey of fraternity, of love, of trust.”
But he will immediately face calls to reform the inner workings of the Vatican following the crisis that surrounded the leaking of internal documents and a number of ongoing abuse scandals.
Born in Buenos Aires in 1936 to middle-class Italian parents, Bergoglio initially studied chemical engineering before joining a Jesuit order. While a young man he was badly affected by a respiratory disease that left with him only one functioning lung.
In Argentina he was known for his modest lifestyle, eschewing the archbishop’s palace in favour of a small apartment near to his church and travelling around the city on public transport. He was known for preaching on the topic of social inequality but remains a conservative on matters such as abortion, contraception and gay rights.
However questions are already being raised about his relationship with the 1976-1983 Argentinian military junta, during which time he worked his way up the church hierarchy.
He is a fan of the Argentinian football club San Lorenzo de Almagro, enjoys classic music and likes the writings of Jorge Luis Borges.