VATICAN CITY -- Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been named Pope Francis, the 266th Bishop of Rome, making him the first Jesuit leader of the Catholic Church and the first pontiff from the Americas.
Pope Francis, 76, will now lead the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, including more than two million in New York City.
He was chosen on the second day of the conclave that began on Tuesday.
Pope Francis will officially be installed as pope on Tuesday, but he will celebrate his first Mass as leader of the Catholic church on Thursday, in the Sistine Chapel.
Bergoglio reportedly received the second-most votes after Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 papal election. He is regarded as an intellectual who modernized what had been one of the most conservative Roman Catholic churches in Latin America.
The decision by the College of Cardinals was indicated by white smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel shortly after 2 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. As per tradition, the white smoke came from the burning of ballots performed twice a day, after each round of voting.
Crowds who gathered in St. Peter's Square could be heard chanting in Latin "Habemus Papam" or "We have a pope'' while the bells of St. Peter's Basilica and churches across Rome tolled.
Addressing the thousands gathered in the square, the pope said, "You know that I was in the conclave, it was to give a bishop of Rome, and it seems to me that my brother cardinals went to choose him from the end of the world, but we are here. I thank you for the hospitality for greeting me."
Pope Francis recited The Lord's Prayer in honor of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and then continued, "Now, let us begin this journey. Bishop together with people. This is the journey of a Rome that is ahead of all churches. It's a journey of brotherhood and trust among us. Let us pray for us. Let us pray always for us. One for the other, each one for one another. Let us pray for the entire world so that there is a great fraternity, a great brotherhood."
The decision in Vatican City came during the second round of ballots on the second day of the conclave.
New York's Cardinal Dolan and Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston were said to be American shadow candidates.
In a statement, Cardinal Dolan says, "The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who has taken the name Francis, marks a great milestone in our church. As successor to Peter, our first pope, Pope Francis stands as the figure of unity for all Catholics wherever they reside. The bishops of the United States and the people of our 195 dioceses offer prayers for our new leader and promise allegiance to him. Intense prayer from all around the world surrounded the election of Pope Francis. The bishops of the United States thank God for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the inspired choice of the College of Cardinals.
With joy in our hearts, we declare 'Ad Multos Annos!' (For many years!)"
President Barack Obama also applauded the election of Pope Francis, saying he and his wife Michelle were sending "warm wishes." His statement reads in part, "Just as I appreciated our work with Pope Benedict XVI, I look forward to working with His Holiness to advance peace, security and dignity for our fellow human beings, regardless of their faith. We join with people around the world in offering our prayers for the Holy Father as he begins the sacred work of leading the Catholic Church in our modern world."
The balloting process, which began Tuesday, required a candidate receive a two-thirds majority, which only came on the fifth round.
The selection of the new pope resulted from the resignation on February 28 of Pope Benedict XVI, who stepped down after almost eight years, citing health reasons.
The outgoing 85-year-old pontiff shocked the world with his decision on February 11, becoming the first pope to resign in almost 600 years.
The pope emeritus was seen as a caretaker pontiff and a champion of conservative Catholic theology.
Catholics are currently observing Lent, a 40-day period of reflection that ends on Good Friday, March 29.
Vatican Once Suppressed Jesuits But Is Now Lead By A Jesuit
Pope Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires in 1936. He is the son of an Italian immigrant who worked on the railroad.
At first a student of chemistry, Bergoglio joined in 1958 the Society of Jesus, a Catholic priestly order founded by St. Ignatius Loyola, a Spanish priest, in the early 1500s.
Bergoglio's papal name of Francis is probably an homage to St. Francis Xavier, one of Loyola's first six followers, who was among the first Jesuits who spread the teachings through the Americas and Asia.
The Jesuit order encourages its followers to engage in intellectual and spiritual self-examination and to engage the world as missionaries, and later through the establishment of schools and colleges.
The Vatican has had a thorny relationship with the Jesuits, who were perceived by their opponents as acquiring too much worldly power and influence. Pope Clement XIV actually suppressed the Jesuit order through a decree in 1773, and the Jesuits were only allowed to regroup in 1814.
Bergoglio's own rise through the Catholic hierarchy was untroubled, as he studied theology in Germany, then became the rector of his Jesuit seminary and then became an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Buenos Aires in 1992.
He was appointed the bishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and was elevated to cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001.
As bishop, Bergoglio has taken more liberal stances, like demanding better treatment for the poor and victims of HIV/AIDS, but he has also taken very conservative moral stances.
When Argentina legalized gay marriage in 2010, Bergoglio wrote in a letter that the bill was "a move by the Father of Lies which aims to confuse and deceive the children of God."
He also wrote that children of same-sex parents would be "discriminated against in being deprived of the human growth that God wanted to be given through a father and a mother."
His comments drew criticism from Argentina's president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.