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'It's a huge gift for Latin America': World reacts to a new pontiff

After waiting 20 centuries for a Latin American pope, many of faithful there now believe they'll have a larger voice in the church, and that Pope Francis will pay special attention to the poor. NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

As white smoke rose from the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday and the bells of St. Peter's tolled, the crowd of thousands that had gathered in the square began cheering the election of a new pope to succeed Benedict.

Reactions poured in swiftly from around the world following Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's first appearance as Pope Francis on St. Peter's balcony.

Pictures of the new pontiff were splashed across the homepages of newspapers in Argentina as he was presented to the world for the first time.

Latin American Catholics thrilled by the election of the cardinal wept and cheered in churches across the region at Bergoglio’s election.

“It’s a huge gift for all of Latin America,” Jose Antonio Cruz, a Franciscan friar in Puerto Rico told the Associated Press. “We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait.”

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner hailed the new spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

People from around the world who gathered in St. Peter's Square react to the election of Pope Francis

“On my behalf and that of the Argentine government and representing the people of our country, I wish to salute you and express my congratulations on the occasion of having been elected as the new Roman Catholic  pontiff,” Kirchner said in a statement.

President Obama wished the world’s newest leader “warm wishes” as he ascends the Chair of St. Peter.

“As the first pope from the Americas, his selection also speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world, and alongside millions of Hispanic Americans, those of us in the United States share the joy of this historic day,” Obama said.

Vice President Joe Biden, who is Catholic, will lead the U.S. delegation to the new pope’s installation ceremonies, an Obama administration official said on Wednesday.

“I’m happy that they were able to come to a choice as quickly as they did,” House Speaker John Boehner, also a Catholic, told NBC News. The selection of a pope from South America is “another big step in the right direction for our church,” Boehner said.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also a practicing Catholic, posted on his Facebook page: "My family and I offer our prayers for Pope Francis. Like his namesake St. Francis, Pope Francis has lived a life of humility and commitment to the poor. For his spiritual leadership, we are grateful. And for his message of renewal, we will heed his call."

The pontifical Twitter handle came alive Wednesday after a silence that began with the resignation of Benedict XVI. “HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM,” the pope’s Twitter proclaimed.

American Catholics are praying Pope Francis will be able to repair the Church, damaged by scandal, and help usher in an era of credibility that can draw in more young parishioners. NBC's John Yang reports.

British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted that it was a “momentous day for the 1.2 [billion] Catholics around the world,” as Pope Francis was appointed.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said he hoped the new pope would “build on the legacy of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, in the promotion of inter-faith dialogue.”

“I look forward to continuing cooperation between the United Nations and the Holy See, under the wise leadership of His Holiness Pope Francis,” Ban said.

Outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, home to papal contender Cardinal Timothy Dolan, there were no tears that the avuncular archbishop wasn’t elected.

“I think it’s great,” said Sister Lucy Grygorcewicz, who was visiting the cathedral with a group of Felician Sister. “He’s representing a large constituency and it’s new and different.”

“I think this is a moment that I will remember my whole life,” Ana Paula Valacco, a tourist visiting New York City from Buenos Aires, told NBC News. “It was completely unexpected and it’s crazy. Very, very crazy.”

Natacha Pisarenko / AP

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio leads a Mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Feb. 14.

Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who was also considered a papabile, or contender for the Church’s top position, prayed for “grace and strength” for Francis in a statement.

And while the American contenders did not carry the day, a member of arguably the country’s most prominent Catholic family weighed in.

“Love his calm demeanor,” Maria Shriver tweeted of the serene Holy Father. “It’s a new world … let it begin.”

Edward Egan, the Archbishop Emeritus of New York, told NBC News' Brian Williams that this was “the moment of Latin America.”

“I can assure you he’s not feeble in any way at 76,” he said.

“Let us pray for Pope Francis!” former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, a Catholic, tweeted on Wednesday.

Excitement was equally high at Boston College, which hosts one of the largest communities of Jesuit priests outside the Vatican.

“As a Jesuit University we’re delighted with the selection of Cardinal Bergoglio as pope,” university spokesman Jack Dunn told NBC News. “He’s a man of great humility and empathy with the poor and those are characteristics that have long been cherished among Jesuit circles.”

Cardinal Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, greeted the election of Pope Francis I as a “great milestone in our church” in a statement released on Wednesday.

“The bishops of the United States thank God for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the inspired choice of the College of Cardinals,” Dolan said in the statement.

NBC News’ Daniel Arkin, Petra Cahill, and Miranda Leitsinger contributed to this report.

Dmitry Lovetsky / AP

Cardinals elected Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio pope on the second day of the conclave, taking on the name Pope Francis.


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