By Catherine Hornby and Naomi O'Leary
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of flag-waving pilgrims and Romans saluted the new Pope Francis on Wednesday, warming to the Argentine's first words from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica after his surprise appointment.
Crowds who had come to the Vatican on a rainy evening were rewarded when white smoke billowed from the makeshift chimney on the Sistine Chapel to indicate a pope had been chosen little more than 24 hours after cardinals began their conclave.
Romans and visitors of all ages rushed along the Via della Conciliazione towards the Vatican hoping to catch a glimpse of the new pope as the peal of bells relayed the news around the city.
More than an hour after the smoke appeared, French cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran pronounced "Habemus Papam" (We have a pope) and named him as Argentina's Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
Bergoglio was not one of the obvious candidates but those who knew his background praised the choice of the bespectacled 76-year-old.
"He's very humble, I heard that in Buenos Aires he used to take public transport, have an apartment and cook for himself," said Jules Charette, 54, a lawyer from Quebec in Canada who travelled to Rome especially for the conclave.
"The fact that he chose the name Francesco (Francis) means a lot. It means we will have a humble, simple pope close to the people and close to the poor people. But it was a big surprise," he added.
Like many Argentines, Bergoglio has ancestral ties to Italy and that pleased Italians who have not held the papacy since 1978 after monopolising it for centuries.
"It's a very good choice, I'm very pleased. I remember he has Italian roots. I'm happy he is from another continent, it shows the universal church is embracing the whole world, said Stefano Genoese, 47, an IT consultant from Rome.
Bergoglio, the first pope from outside Europe since the 8th century, told the crowd in Italian that the cardinals had gone "almost to the end of the world to get him".
He also praised his predecessor Pope Benedict who stepped down last month and ended by telling the crowd "Good night and have a good rest."
"I thought he was very humble, asking everyone to pray for him first," said Father Ted Martin, from Kalamazoo, Michigan.
"I was completely surprised, I'm happy it'ait's a South American, as they have the most Catholics in the world."
(Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Giles Elgood)