Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been elected the 266th pope, making him the leader of the 1.2 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church.
Francis was elected on Wednesday on the second day of the conclave in Vatican City, after receiving the required two-thirds majority, or at least 77 votes of the 115 cardinal electors from 48 countries.
The 76-year-old from Buenos Aires is the first Jesuit and the first non-European pontiff in nearly 1,300 years.
The Jesuit order, which was founded in the 16th century, has a strong educational focus and takes vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to Christ and the pope.
Pope Francis appeared on the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica just over an hour after white smoke poured from
a chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel to signal his election.
“Pray for me,” the new pontiff, dressed in the white robes of a pope for the first time, urged the crowd.
The news of announcement was met with cheers from hundreds of thousands of crowd gathered under the rain at St Peter’s Square in Rome.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the protodeacon, made the announcement with the Latin words, Habemus papam, meaning “We have a pope”.
Francis succeeds Benedict XVI, who stepped down on February 28, the first pontiff to do so in 598 years.
The Vatican said his inaugural mass would be held on March 19.
As a sign of the election of a new pope, the Vatican also reactivated the Twitter account @Pontifex.
Francis spoke by phone with Benedict XVI after his election and plans to see him in the coming days, the Vatican said.
Jubilant Argentines poured into churches, some crying and praying, after the announcement at the Vatican.
“This is a blessing for Argentina,” one woman shouted on a Buenos Aires street.
“I hope he changes all the luxury that exists in the Vatican, that he steers the church in a more humble direction, something closer to the gospel,” Jorge Andres Lobato, a 73-year-old retired state prosecutor, said.
Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo, reporting from Buenos Aires, described the reaction in the Argentinian capital as “absolute shock”.
“Noboby expected him to become pope,” our correspondent said. “People here are crying”.
Father Robert Gahl of Holy Cross University told Al Jazeera that the name Francis was “indicative of something historical”.Gahl described as “striking” the reaction to the new pope, which he said is “way superior to what occured eight years ago, which may be a surprise to some”.
Barack Obama, the US president, said the election of Francis “speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world”.
With the election of the new pope, Vatican now faces several key challenges.
Experts said the new pope’s response to those will give us a significant indication of what Catholics can expect from his time as the head of the church.
One key priority is reaching out to his flock of 1.2 billion Catholics and rebuilding the relationship between the Vatican and churches around the globe.
“Much was made about whether the new pope would be one who focused on pastoral care – speaking to the faithful around the world or would he be one who tries to reform the Vatican,” Jack Valero, director of the Catholic Voices organisation, told Al Jazeera.
“In reality, he needs to do both.”