The selection of a Jesuit priest from Argentina to be pope signifies a number of firsts, but Pope Francis is expected to continue the doctrinal conservatism of the last two papacies.
"What a glorious thing. What a wonderful thing. First American pope. He's the first pope who is a Jesuit. The first pope from the southern Hemisphere," said Rev. Barry Knestout, auxiliary bishop of Washington, at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington D.C.
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio was known for his humility - it is said he cooked his own food and rode public buses.
Across Washington, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was draped in the Vatican's colors. And Rev. Mark Morozowich said the pope's new name carries meaning.
"By choosing the name Francis - Francis I! - You know Francis was a man very committed to prayer and to poverty. And as well we know that Francis sought to reform the church," said Rev. Mark Morozowich, of the Catholic University of America.
Francis referred to himself in his first papal speech as the choice from "the end of the earth."
But his selection is not as radical as it may seem, says Chester Gillis, a dean at Georgetown University, a Jesuit institution.
"As much as he's in Latin America and Buenos Aires, he knows Rome and he's on lots of the congregations. He's fluent in Italian and he's there a lot. He knows the players, so he's not some unknown quantity which people might think," he said.
He expects Francis will be a pope in the mold of his predecessors.
"Theologically conservative. Doctrinally conservative. No question. I don't see any changes there," he explained.
But his election is a recognition by a historically European church that its future is where most of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics are - in the southern hemisphere.
Newly elected Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, appears on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, March 13, 2013.
April 4, 2005: Jorge Mario Bergoglio conducts a mass in honor of Pope John Paul II at the Buenos Aires cathedral. Bergoglio of Argentina was elected pope on March 13, 2013 to lead the Roman Catholic Church.
Crowds cheer as white smoke rises from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, March 13, 2013.
White smoke rising from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel, indicating that a new pope has been elected.
Crowds cheer as white smoke rises from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel, March 13, 2013.
Nuns smile in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 13, 2013.
People crowd Saint Peter's Square to await the sight of smoke from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel.
Visitors wait in Saint Peter's Square during the second day of voting, March 13, 2013.
Black smoke rises from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City indicating that no decision has been made after the first day of voting for the election of a new pope, March 12, 2013.
The crowd waits during the conclave in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 12, 2013.
A view of the balcony on the facade of Saint Peter's Basilica where the newly elected pope will make his first appearance to salute the cheering crowd, at the Vatican, March 11, 2013.
Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican is silhouetted during sunset in Rome, March 11, 2013.
Saint Peter's Square, seen from the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.