Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, was chosen as the Roman Catholic Church’s 266th pope, the first one not from Europe in more than a millennium, the first from the Americas and the first Jesuit to ascend to the throne of St Peter.
Marco Politi, a well-known Vatican analyst, said: “I think it’s a good move. He’s not Italian, he’s not European, he’s not a man of the Curia [the Holy See’s governing body]. He represents an opening to the developing world.
“I think Francis I signifies a completely new beginning. He’s a moderate man with some reformist tendencies. He’s a man of the centre but open to reform and to a more positive vision of the Church.”
The new pope seemed to be absolutely surprised by the choice of his 114 brother cardinals who had looked to “the end of the world” to find a successor to retired Benedict XVI.
Cardinal Bergoglio had not featured in any of the front-runner lists that drawn up by Vatican-watchers in the days before the conclave started.
A stunned-looking Pope Francis I, dressed in white vestments and with a crucifix around his neck, waved to the crowd of thousands of people who shrugged off the rain and cold in the square below.
The appearance of white smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney had earlier electrified Rome. Within seconds, people rushed to the site where a new pope should appear.
“They’ve chosen, they’ve chosen,” a woman told her daughter running across rain-soaked cobbles, two small figures in a river of hundreds hurrying to the seat of the Roman Catholic Church.
People sang and danced in front of television cameras and mobile phone networks crashed as millions of Catholics called friends and relations to tell them that the new pope was chosen.
As The Telegraph writes, there was then an agonising wait of more than an hour, as the crowd fizzed with speculation as to who the new pope might be.
Helen Crombie, a long-time British resident of Rome who works as a translator, described hearing about the election of the new Pope.
“We were at home in Trastevere [a quarter of Rome] when we heard,” she said. “Downstairs from our flat there is a bar where people normally watch the football. There was shouting and the woman who owns it started ringing a bell. We came over straightaway.”
As the bells of St Peter’s rang out, Jacob Resnick, 20, from Rochester, New York, said: “It’s exciting, and it’s also a relief to finally see the white smoke because we’ve been waiting here for hours in the rain. It’s monumental.”
Maria Skolozynska, 22, from Poland, said: “We were in an Italian class when I got a message and I said, ‘Excuse me but we have a Pope’. Then we rushed to a supermarket to buy something to drink and the man gave us a bottle of wine for free.”
“It’s a historic moment,” said Agne Daunyte, 25, from Lithuania. “I want the new Pope to bring something new, something better to the Church.”
Pope Francis soon delivered his first blessing to the crowd, asking for the prayers of “all men and women of good will” to help him lead the Roman Catholic Church.
Speaking with a slight Latin American accent, the new pope even joked. “As you know the duty of the conclave is to give Rome a bishop. It seems that my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world,” a quip which drew huge cheers and laughter.
The conclave, which started on Tuesday, was one of the fastest of the last century. Over the past 100 years, many conclaves lasted up to four days.