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White Smoke at the Vatican: Francis Named 266th Pontiff

March 13, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Catholic cardinals proclaimed a new leader of the church today: An Argentine archbishop who will now be known as Pope Francis. It was a departure from centuries-old traditions, and it brought an outpouring of celebration in Vatican City.

A great wave of cheering broke as the much-anticipated white smoke rose from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel. By the tens of thousands, the faithful braved a chilly rain in St. Peter’s Square. The bells of St. Peter’s confirmed the news the crowds had been anxiously awaiting for hours. After just five rounds of voting, a new pontiff had been elected, just one day after the conclave began its closed meeting.

As word spread, even more pilgrims and tourists descended on the Vatican, filling the square to capacity and packing into nearby streets to witness the historic moment.

FRANCISCO ORIOLI, Argentinean Pilgrim: I cannot explain it. This is tremendous. This is the first time I am in Rome, and to have an Argentinean pope, it’s tremendous.

MANUEL ARRIETA, Argentinean Pilgrim: We are very happy as Argentineans. I think he is a very well-prepared person and we need to pray for the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ to give him the strength to lead the Catholic Church.

GWEN IFILL: Italian military bands and the Swiss guard also marched through the square. But the new pope’s identity wasn’t officially revealed until more than an hour later, when he finally emerged from the velvet curtained balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, the chosen one, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, the first pontiff from the Americas.

The 76-year-old chose the name Pope Francis. He delivered his first public address to the cheering crowd.

POPE FRANCIS, Leader of Catholic Church: Brothers and sisters, good evening.

As you know, the duty of the conclave is to give Rome a bishop. It seems to me that my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world, but finally we are here.

I would like to pray for Benedict, our bishop emeritus. We pray together for him, for God to bless him and for the Madonna to hold him.

GWEN IFILL: The new pope has spent most of his career in Argentina, where he oversaw churches and priests across the country. Now he will lead the 1.2 billion members of the Roman Catholic Church, all while addressing a number of difficult issues plaguing the church, from priest sex abuse scandals to allegations of corruption.

Pope Francis succeeds Benedict XVI, who stepped down last month. He was the first pontiff to resign in 600 years.