Pope Francis addresses crowds in Rome

Pope Francis addresses crowds in Rome

The new leader of the Catholic Church, 76-year-old Argentinan Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Buenos Aires, has addressed jubilant crowds in Rome.

On becoming Pope Francis, the first Latin American and Jesuit pontiff, he waved to the thousands of pilgrims who flocked to Vatican City and Rome to experience the atmosphere first-hand.

"Buonasera," Pope Francis greeted the masses.

"I would like to thank you for your welcome, the community of Rome, its brotherhood, I thank you.

"Above all, I would like to pray for Pope Benedict XVI."

Pope Francis is the first pontiff from outside Europe in more than a millennium, although he is of Italian descent.

Heralding the pontiff's first public appearance, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran had first stepped onto the balcony overlooking St Peter's Square and declared: "Habemus Papam!"

It was shortly after 7pm local time on Wednesday when white smoke rose from the chimney of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel - signifying that the new pope had been chosen by the conclave.

The bells from St Peter's Basilica also rang to mark the announcement, which came after the first rounds of secret voting involving the 115 cardinals proved inconclusive.

The process required one candidate to receive a two-thirds majority and Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen during the fifth ballot.

Following his selection, the 266th pope changed into his papal white cassock and the cardinals who selected him, one-by-one, swore their obedience to him.

Let us pray for the whole world ...

Pope Francis

Benedict XVI stepped down last month citing failing health as the reason.

At that point, no clear frontrunner had emerged to take over from the 85-year-old as leader of the Catholic Church and its 1.2 billion followers worldwide.

It is thought that Jorge Mario Bergoglio received the second highest number of votes at the time of Benedict XVI's election in 2005, as cardinals sought to replace Pope John Paul II.

He is said to have specialised in pastoral work throughout his career, predominantly in his native Argentina, and is known for modernising one of the country's most conservative churches.

However, he has previously been outspoken against Argentina's efforts to legalise same-sex marriage - branding it "a destructive pretension against the plan of God".

He has also taken a conservative stance on issues such as abortion.

With the Catholic church facing the challenges of dwindling congregations and growing secularism, some commentators have speculated that Pope Francis' humble and gentle manner could prove unequal to the task of tackling reform of the Vatican.

But his fellow Cardinals believe electing someone from the relative "outsider" position of Argentina signals a fresh approach to handling these issues.

The Church of Ireland's Most Revd Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, gave his welcome to Pope Francis.

An Argentinean of European parentage, he brings together in his own person the cultures, hopes and spiritual needs of the first world and of the developing world, so much to be valued amidst the complexities and apprehensions of our globalised earth.

Most Revd Richard Clarke

"In company with millions of men and women throughout the world of different Christian traditions to his own, I assure the new Pope of our prayers as he begins his new ministry," he said.

"He has been a champion of the needs of the poor and dispossessed, and, in the simplicity of his own lifestyle, he has sought to reflect the life of the much-loved saint whose name he now carries in the future, Saint Francis."

Catholic Bishop Donal McKeown, from the diocese of Down and Connor, told UTV that he - and others - welcomed the swift appointment of the new pope.

"The reasonably quick reaching of a conclusion suggests that it wasn't too hard to reach consensus around a particular figure, and I think none of us benefits from uncertainty," he said.

"The fact that there will be someone in place to take on the enormous role is, I think, reassuring for everyone."

Rev Kenneth Lindsay, president of the Methodist Church, said: "With others around the world, I would like to add my words of congratulations to the newly elected Pope Francis.

"He brings to the Office of Pope humility as well as intellectual and pastoral skills.

"May the grace of God who called him enable him to reflect the character of St Francis whose name he has chosen."

In a historical first, the new pope has been heralded on social media with the official papal accounts - set up for Benedict XVI - having switched from Sede Vacante back to Pontifex.

Catholics in Northern Ireland have been giving their reactions to UTV.

One woman said: "Hopefully he'll take up from where Pope Benedict left off and he will be a good Holy Father and lead us forward."

A man said: "I'm very happy to see the new pope and I hope we get a good, strong leader for we need it at this time."

Another woman said: "I wish him the best of luck - it's a tough job and God bless him."

And a man added: "He should look into things a bit more and correct a lot of things that have been going wrong in our church".

Meanwhile political leaders from around the world have welcomed Pope Francis.

Prime Minister David Cameron hailed it as a "momentous day".

He tweeted: "A momentous day for the 1.2bn Catholics around the world as His Holiness Pope Francis I is appointed the 266th Bishop of Rome."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny welcomed the Pope on behalf of Ireland.

He said: "He has the best wishes of all Irish people, of all traditions, as he undertakes the immense responsibility of his pontificate.

"We pray that he will have the strength, the good health and the spiritual guidance needed to lead the Catholic Church in the many challenges it faces."

US president Barack Obama said, as the first pope from the Americas, the selection of Jorge Mario Bergoglio "speaks to the strength and vitality" of the region.

"On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I offer our warm wishes to His Holiness Pope Francis as he ascends to the Chair of Saint Peter and begins his papacy," he said.

"As the first pope from the Americas, his selection also 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."

He carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than two thousand years - that in each other, we see the face of God.

President Obama

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said: "We share many common goals - from the promotion of peace, social justice and human rights, to the eradication of poverty and hunger - all core elements of sustainable development.

"I am certain that His Holiness will continue to build on the legacy of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, in the promotion of inter-faith dialogue which is at the heart of the Alliance of Civilisations initiative."

Pope Francis was chosen after one of the shortest conclaves in years - even though there wasn't a clear front runner ahead of the voting process.

Some of the names which had been mentioned most as "papabile", or top candidates, included Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer, Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary and Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada.

Cardinal Bergoglio had not been considered a serious contender due to his age.

Before leaving the balcony on Wednesday night, the new pope bid the crowd farewell with the message: "Good night, and have a good rest".

It is believed he will be officially installed next Tuesday on the feast of St Joseph, patron saint of the church.

© UTV

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