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March 13, 2013

Catholics, World Leaders Welcome New Pope

by Lou Lorscheider

Throngs of flag waving Roman Catholic faithful packing St. Peter's Square roared approval Wednesday evening as Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio appeared on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica as the new pope to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

The 76-year-old Bergoglio, who chose the papal name Francis, spoke in Italian as he thanked the vast audience for their welcome, and world leaders began issuing statements of warm wishes and congratulations.

"Brothers and sisters, good evening," the new pope intoned.  "As you know, the duty of the conclave is to give Rome a new bishop.  It seems that my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world.  But we are here."

The choice of Bergoglio, who becomes the first Latin American pope, was announced by French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, with the words "I announce to you a great joy, we have a pope."

World Leaders React

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner issued a statement saying "we wish him, as he takes the reigns of the Church, a fruitful pastoral mission."  She cited the "tremendous responsibility on the shoulders [of Pope Francis to seek] justice, equality, brotherhood and peace among mankind."

U.S. President Barack Obama offered warm wishes to "the first pope from the Americas," calling Bergoglio "a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us."  In his statement, Obama also said the selection "speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world."

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he looked forward to cooperating with the Holy See under Pope Francis' "wise leadership."  European Union leaders Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso wished the new pope "a long and blessed pontificate."

British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande also issued statements of praise and congratulations. Cameron called Wednesday "a momentous day" for the world's Roman Catholics.

Latin America Celebrates

Bells tolled and cities erupted in celebration across Latin America, with the jubilant faithful jamming streets from Buenos Aires to Caracas, Venezuela.  

At the St. Francis of Assisi church in the Puerto Rican capital, San Juan, the Associated Press said church secretary Antonia Veloz exchanged high-fives (celebratory hand slaps) with with Franciscan friar Jose Antonio Cruz.

"It is a huge gift for all of Latin America.  We waited 20 centuries.  It was worth the wait," said Cruz.

Francis becomes the world's 266th pontiff in the Church's 2000 year history.  He is the first non-European pope since Syrian-born Gregory III in the eighth century.