2013 has been a year of firsts for the Catholic Church. First, Pope Benedict XVI announced last month that he would step down, which hasn’t happened in 600 years.
Then the cardinals elected Cardinal Bergoglio, who is not only the first from South America, but he is also the first Jesuit pope. Jesuits are a unique order within the Church known for their work in education. Several universities, such as Georgetown and Loyola are Jesuit, as are many Catholic high schools.
Latin Americans overjoyed by choice
"It's a huge gift for all of Latin America. We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait," Franciscan friar Jose Antonio Cruz told the Associated Press in Puerto Rico. "Everyone from Canada down to Patagonia is going to feel blessed. This is an event."
“It's incredible!" Martha Ruiz, age 60, told the AP in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. She said she has been in many meetings with the former cardinal and he is “a man who transmits great serenity."
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed the new pope. President Obama said the selection of the first pope from the Americas "speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world, and alongside millions of Hispanic Americans, those of us in the United States share the joy of this historic day."
Argentine Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio speaks during a mass for Ash Wednesday, opening Lent, the forty-day period of abstinence and deprivation for Christians, before the Holy Week and Easter, on February 13, 2013.
The cardinal becomes the pope
When a cardinal becomes a pope, he chooses a new name. Cardinal Bergoglio settled on Francis I after St. Francis of Assisi, another first for the Church.
CNN Vatican expert John Allen called the name of Pope Francis as "the most stunning" choice and "precedent shattering," because St. Francis is seen as such a unique and important figure in Catholicism. St. Francis, who lived in the 1200s, represents simplicity, humility and a rejection of superficial concerns.
Pope Francis I will hold an installation Mass this week and then receive the Fisherman's Ring. Each ring is made specifically for the new pope — Benedict took his off when he retired Feb. 28 and it was purposely damaged by Vatican authorities per tradition. Pope Francis will also receive the pallium, the woolen cloth that's a symbol of his authority.
A tough road ahead for the Catholic Church
The new pope faces a tough road. There is pressure to liberalize doctrine towards women in the priesthood and homosexuality, as well as questions about Vatican bank practices. The Church has also been dealing with a crisis regarding child sexual abuse by priests for decades.
But for now, Catholics around the world are welcoming their new leader. Over 100,000 gathered in St. Peter’s square to catch a glimpse of Francis I.
After the white smoke that announced his election billowed up from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, Pope Francis I appeared on the Vatican balcony.
"Let's pray always for each other. Let's pray for the whole world. May there be a great brotherhood," he said in Italian.