The Roman Catholic Church has elected a new pope: Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the 76-year-old Archbishop of Buenos Aires who has chosen the papal name Francis.

Jorge Bergoglio has made history as the first pope of the Americas; the first Jesuit; and the first non-European pope in more than 1,000 years.

After announcing "Habemus Papum" -- "We have a pope!" -- a cardinal revealed the identity of the new pontiff Wednesday evening. Appearing on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, dressed in white, Bergoglio said: “I would like to thank you for your embrace."

“The purpose of the conclave was to appoint the bishop of Rome. But it seems my brothers the cardinals went all the way to the end of the world. I thank you for your welcome.”

Bergoglio (pronounced Ber-GOAL-io) asked for prayers for himself, and for the retired Pope Benedict XVI, who he plans to visit Thursday morning. 

He invited the faithful to "pray for the entire world". Then: "I hope that this path for the church will be one fruitful for evangelisation."

The Vatican announced Pope Francis' inaugural mass will be held on Tuesday, March 19.

He will be called simply Francis, without a Roman numeral. Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said it will become Francis I only "after we have a Francis II."

The name honours St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment who dedicated his life to helping the poor.

Another spokesman, Rev. Tom Rosica, announced that the new pontiff, shorly after being elected, placed a phone call to Benedict XVI who has been staying at a papal retreat at Italy's Castel Gandolfo since he resigned February 28.

Bergoglio inherits the throne of St. Peter at a tumultous time, with the church plagued by abuse scandals, coverups and a shrinking priesthood.

How he won

Bergoglio was elected on the fifth ballot in a conclave considered to be a quick one -- given that there was no clear frontrunner going in. The winner had to receive 77 votes, or two-thirds of the support of the 115 voting cardinals.

Bergoglio was greeted by tens of thousands of faithful who were waiting to witness the first new pontiff in eight years, and the 266th pontiff in the 2,000-year history of the church. The crowd chanted "Long live the pope!" and cheered the Italian marching bands that played up the steps of the basilica. The voices of the crowd joined in unison when the band starting playing the Vatican and Italian anthems.

“We’re going to see in this guy a reformer. He’s going to take the church in a different direction,” CTV papal commentator Father Michael Bechard said.

During the last conclave, Bergoglio was the main challenger to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI. But Bergoglio was not considered a frontrunner this time around, and his name was not mentioned as often as cardinals such as Italy's Angelo Scola, Canada's Marc Ouellet or Brazil's Odilo Scherer .

Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires in 1936. His father, an immigrant from Italy, was a railway worker.

He grew up with four siblings and originally planned to become a chemist, but eventually decided to become a priest and entered the Society of Jesus in 1958.

Bergoglio spent almost his entire career in Argentina, teaching literature and philosophy in his early years and serving as the country’s Jesuit provincial in the 1970s. He was famous for his humble lifestyle, taking the bus to his parish in Buenos Aires each morning.

His views

While he is known for modernizing an Argentinian church considered to be among the most conservative in Latin America, he is also known for his strict views on morality -- having staunchly opposed same-sex marriage, contraception and abortion.

He has called adoption by gay parents a form of discrimination against children -- a stance that was publicly criticized by Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Still, Bergoglio has shown compassion for HIV and AIDS patients, visiting a hospice in 2001 to kiss and wash the feet of some of those affected by the disease.

He once accused his fellow church leaders of being hypocrites and lambasted them for forgetting that Jesus was known to bathe lepers and ate with prostitutes.

"Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the word in body as well as spirit," he told priests in Argentina last year.

“This is a man who goes into the shantytowns and cooks with the people," said Gerard O’Connell, CTV Vatican specialist. "I think the world is going to discover a very new style of being pope."

Fast facts on Jorge Mario Bergoglio:

  • Ordained as a priest in 1969
  • Initially trained as a chemist
  • Taught psychology, philosophy and theology
  • Became Buenos Aires archbishop in 1998
  • Became cardinal in 2001
  • Lives in a small apartment rather than a palatial bishop
  • Known to love the tango
  • Often rode the bus to work and gave up his personal chauffeur
  • Chose to sit in the back row of bishops' meetings

With files from the Associated Press