Vatican crowd shares Argentina's joy at new pope

Tens of thousands of people in St Peter's Square on Wednesday joined Argentina in celebrating Latin America's first pope -- Jorge Mario Bergoglio -- with many hoping he will revolutionise the Roman Catholic Church.

The newly elected Pope Francis was met with a roar from an ecstatic crowd as he appeared in his papal whites for the first time on a balcony high on the basilica's facade.

The bespectacled 76-year-old stood as if humbled by the wild applause as some in the crowd wept with joy.

After waiting in the rain for hours, people cheered wildly when white smoke billowed out of the Sistine Chapel chimney a few minutes after 7:00 pm (1800 GMT), signalling a new pope had been chosen by a conclave of cardinals after five ballots.

The crowd then had to endure an agonising hour-long wait, the faithful from all over the world standing shoulder to shoulder in the darkness until the new pope's identity was revealed.

When Francis emerged from behind heavy burgundy curtains, he was greeted by chants of "long live the pope!"

The new pontiff looked overwhelmed, and took a moment to compose himself before greeting the crowd, which fell silent and held a collective breath as they waited for his first words.

"Dear brothers and sisters, good evening!" he said speaking in Italian with a smile, sparking rapturous applause from nuns, priests, schoolchildren and pilgrims.

"I can't believe it! An Argentinian pope!" said Silvia Pastormerlo, a 50-year-old from Argentina, while Jose Garcia, 24, from Mendoza, said "I'm really pleased he's an Argentinian! My mum burst into tears when it was announced."

"He has such a kind face! He spoke to us as if he was one of us, I think it is an excellent sign!" said Sarah Hopper, a Catholic student from America.

-- 'Revolutionary moment' --

There was joy too from Europeans in the crowd.

"I'm overwhelmed, I never would have thought it would be an Argentinian. I thought the Church was too traditional and Eurocentric for that," said Greta Hinder, 24, from the Netherlands.

"I think it's a massive step forward, this is a revolutionary moment," she said, as her friends hugged each other.

One Italian couple cracked open a bottle of champagne.

Benedetta Vitellano, 32, said: "We were at home nearby and we heard a commotion and rushed to see.

"It's amazing, we're toasting to a new beginning."

Masani Hara, 47, had travelled from Tokyo with her son and her mother.

"I'm really happy a South American has been elected, especially one from Argentina because I lived there for 17 years," she said.

The long wait for the white smoke had been punctuated by a seagull perching on top of the copper chimney on the chapel roof, which many people took as a good omen.

Then there was a sudden outpouring of joy when the smoke appeared in the night air just as the rain stopped.

People surged into St Peter's Square and raced towards the Basilica to get a front-row view of the new pope.

Marco D'Amaro, a 26-year-old Italian seminarist, reflected that Bergoglio had barely been mentioned in the pre-vote predictions.

"It's a big surprise. Before the vote no one was talking about this guy, not even in the media. I thought he was a Brazilian!"

He added: "He has to try and get the Church in order. Right now there are too many factions which makes the running of the Church complicated."

Catholicism in Latin America is growing rapidly and there had been calls for the new pope to come from the southern hemisphere for the first time.

Many worshippers had hoped the new pontiff would be the first to adopt the name Francis, drawing upon the legacy of St Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century founder of the Franciscan Order and a symbol of asceticism.

"I prayed for a pope Francis, and I got one!" said Saverio, an Italian architect who had spent the conclave period holding up a sign in St. Peter's Square calling for a pope Francis.

"I think the Church has realised we need to go back to our roots. This is a fantastic sign!" he said.