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White smoke emerging from the Sistine Chapel Pope Francis was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. (AP Photo / Gregorio Borgia)

A Pope From South America

The Catholic Church selects the first Pope from the Americas

By Zach Jones | null null , null
<p> PHOTO: The white smoke from the Sistine Chapel was a signal that the new Pope had been elected. (AP Photo / Gregorio Borgia)</p><p> MAP: More than three quarters of Argentina’s citizens are Catholic. (Jim McMahon)</p>

PHOTO: The white smoke from the Sistine Chapel was a signal that the new Pope had been elected. (AP Photo / Gregorio Borgia)

MAP: More than three quarters of Argentina’s citizens are Catholic. (Jim McMahon)

The Catholic Church has a new leader. On Wednesday, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected to become the new Pope. He is the first Pope to be chosen from the Americas.

The Pope is the chief pastor, or minister, of the Catholic Church. He is considered the highest living authority on Catholic doctrine, or teaching. Today, the Catholic Church has about 1.2 billion members around the world.

Thousands waited in the rain on Wednesday night inside Vatican City—the independent state within Rome, Italy, that is the headquarters of the Catholic Church. They were watching the chimney of the Sistine Chapel for white smoke—a centuries-old signal that a new Pope has been elected. When the smoke appeared at around 7 p.m., the crowd roared with excitement.

A few moments later, Bergoglio addressed the crowd. Following tradition, he chose a new name for himself. He will now be known as Francis, after the patron saint of Italy, Francis of Assisi.


Bergoglio is from Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, in South America. More than three quarters of Argentina’s 42 million people are members of the Catholic Church.

The cardinals have never before chosen a leader from South America. And it has been more than 1,000 years since a Pope who was not from Europe was elected. The most recent was Pope Gregory III from Syria, who was chosen in the year 731.

Many world leaders congratulated the new Pope, including President Barack Obama.

“As the first Pope from the Americas,” said Obama, “his selection . . . speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world.”


When Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly stepped down last month, Church leaders made plans to elect his replacement. Following centuries of tradition, they called together the College of Cardinals. These high-ranking priests from all over the world are the top officials in the Catholic Church after the Pope.

For two days, 115 cardinals met privately and voted. Each time they disagreed, they burned their ballots in a stove, adding chemicals to produce dark smoke. When they had finally made their choice, they burned their ballots again, adding different chemicals to make the smoke white—and revealing to the anxious crowd outside that a new Pope was in place.

“Let us begin this journey together,” Pope Francis told the crowd after leading them in prayer. “It is a journey of friendship, love, trust, and faith.”

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