In Argentina, elated faithful celebrate local pope

Elated and proud Argentines massed at the Buenos Aires cathedral Wednesday to celebrate the election of the former cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis.

When the news broke from the Vatican, the roughly 200 worshippers who were attending mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral, which overlooks the historic Plaza de Mayo, gave the new pontiff a rousing standing ovation.

The crowd grew and media crews quickly rushed to the area outside the cathedral where Francis used to give mass as archbishop of Buenos Aires and primate of Argentina.

"I am very happy, and very surprised because I did not expect this," Mariano Solis, 33, told AFP outside the majestic building.

"Even when we saw the white smoke on television, we thought the Brazilian or Italian candidate would win," Solis said, referring to Sao Paulo archbishop Odilo Scherer and Milan archbishop Angelo Scola.

"I was headed to the movies with a friend, but when we found out, we headed straight for the cathedral to be with our people."

Solis was one of many who participated in a recitation of the rosary to pray for Francis. The faithful embraced each other and shed emotional tears on the square.

"I am surprised; I did not think they would elect Bergoglio. He is the first Latin American pope and that is going to be a huge plus for the region," said Gaston Hall, 37, a publicist who described himself as a practicing Catholic.

Even the official Church in Argentina was taken by surprise, according to spokesman Federico Wals.

"Bergoglio traveled peacefully" to the Vatican to participate in the conclave to elect a new pope, Wals said inside the cathedral, adding he had a return ticket booked for next week.

The church was so convinced that its own would not be named that it had already advertised Bergoglio's presence at mass on Easter Sunday, the spokesman said.

Claudio Bonani, 42, a businessman from Brazil who rushed to the church upon learning the news, predicted that Bergoglio would have a "great papacy."

Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner, who is Catholic but does not have a warm personal relationship with the pontiff, hailed his election as the first pope from Latin America, and wished him great success.

"We wish him, as he takes the reins of the Church, a fruitful pastoral mission, with such tremendous responsibility on his shoulders, seeking justice, equality, brotherhood and peace among mankind," she said in a statement.

Bergoglio, elected to lead the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, is a humble rail worker's son who became a Jesuit priest and is seen as true to his working class roots.

"He is a simple man, and he has a lot of compassion for those who are most in need," said monsignor Eduardo Garcia, the auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires.