Catholics are still buzzing over his speech last year accusing fellow church officials of hypocrisy for forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.
In a lifetime of teaching and leading priests in Latin America, which has the largest share of the world's Catholics, Bergoglio has also shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly, according to his official biographer, Sergio Rubin.
Bergoglio, who as a teen lost a lung to infection, showed that humility on Wednesday, saying that before he blessed the crowd he wanted their prayers for him and then he bowed his head amid the silence from the crowd.
"Good night, and have a good rest," he said before going back into the palace.
Cardinal Dolan gave an inside glimpse into the drama of the conclave in his talk at the American seminary.
When the tally reached the necessary 77 votes to make Bergoglio pope, Dolan said, the cardinals erupted in applause. And when he accepted the momentous responsibility thrust upon him — "there wasn't a dry eye in the place," the American cardinal recounted.
After the princes of the church had congratulated the new pope one by one, other Vatican officials wanted to do the same, but Francis preferred to go outside and greet the throngs of faithful. "Maybe we should go to the balcony first," Dolan recalled the pope as saying.
In choosing to call himself Francis, the new pope was associating himself with the much-loved Italian saint from Assisi associated with peace, poverty and simplicity. St. Francis was born to a wealthy family but later renounced his wealth and founded the Franciscan order of friars; he wandered about the countryside preaching to the people in very simple language.
He was so famed for his sanctity that he was canonized just two years after his death in 1226.
St. Francis Xavier is another important namesake. One of the 16th century founders of the Jesuit order, Francis Xavier was a legendary missionary who spread the faith as far as India and Japan — giving the new pope's name selection possibly further symbolic resonance in an age when the church is struggling to maintain its numbers.
Francis will celebrate his first Mass as pope in the Sistine Chapel on Thursday, and will be installed officially as pope on Tuesday, according to the Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
Lombardi, also a Jesuit, said he was particularly stunned by the election given that Jesuits typically shun positions of authority in the church, instead offering their work in service to those in power.
But Lombardi said that in accepting the election, Francis must have felt it "a strong call to service," an antidote to all those who speculated that the papacy was about a search for power.
In an interesting twist the Jesuits were expelled from all of the Americas in the mid-18th century. Now, a Latin American Jesuit has been elected head of the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church.
Tens of thousands of people who braved cold rain to watch the smokestack atop the Sistine Chapel jumped in joy when white smoke poured out a few minutes past 7 p.m., many shouting "Habemus Papam!" or "We have a pope!" — as the bells of St. Peter's Basilica and churches across Rome pealed.
After what seemed like an unending wait of more than an hour, they cheered again when the doors to the loggia opened. The cheers became deafening when Bergoglio's name was announced.
"I can't explain how happy I am right now," said Ben Canete, a 32-year-old Filipino, jumping up and down in excitement.
Elected on the fifth ballot, Francis was chosen in one of the fastest conclaves in years, remarkable given there was no clear front-runner going into the vote and that the church had been in turmoil following the upheaval unleashed by Benedict's surprise resignation.
A winner must receive 77 votes, or two-thirds of the 115, to be named pope.
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