VATICAN CITY (BosNewsLife)-- Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, from Argentina has been elected pope. As Pope Francis, as he will be known, appeared in front of a huge crowd packing St. Peter's Square, he asked the faithful to pray silently for him at a time of turmoil in the church.
Bergoglio, a Jesuit, is the first pope ever elected from Latin America, a region of the world with 480 million Catholics.
He replaces Benedict XVI, who became the first pontiff to retire in some 600 years. The surprise resignation last month prompted the 115 Roman Catholic cardinals to initiate a conclave, a Latin phrase meaning "with a key," to pick a new leader for the world's over 1.2 billion Catholics.
He won the necessary two-thirds vote after only two days of the conclave. Several other candidates were considered front runners, including Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, who would have become the first African pope in modern times and also Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo, with 60 among the younger candidates.
"Pray for me and we will see each other soon," he said. "Have a good night and good rest," the pontiff said as he prepared for what will be a huge task to reform a church hit by sex abuse scandals and recent discovered financial wrongdoing.
Thousands of Catholics gathered under umbrellas had eagerly awaited for the church's 266th pontiff to emerge and greet the faithful from the balcony.
The new church leader takes over an organization many say is in crisis, from damaging allegations of internal squabbling to the cover-up and abetting of sexual abuse, though the latter issue came to light before Benedict's papacy.
Some sources say the Catholic Church in the U.S. has paid out as much as $3 billion to settle sexual abuse claims, though others estimate a billion less. At least eight U.S. Catholic dioceses declared bankruptcy protection.
Benedict said in a 1998 U.S. visit that he was ashamed of the sex abuse scandal, and assured that the church would not allow pedophiles to become priests.
Bergoglio is however seen as someone who can bridge the divide within the Church, analysts say. He is also seen as strong in evangelization, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He has in the past said he wants to spread the Gospel to every man and woman.
It was not immediately clear what impact his election would have on persecuted Christians around the world. Benedict XVI repeatedly expressed concerns about what he saw as the world's largest persecuted group.
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