Last Modified: Thursday, March 14, 2013 12:08 PM
LONDON (AP) — World leaders sent in their congratulations and Catholics around the world were celebrating Wednesday after the Vatican announced the election of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to the papacy — making him the first pontiff from the Americas.
Moments after the decision was announced, President Barack Obama offered "warm wishes" to Pope Francis and said the selection speaks to the strength and vitality of the Americas.
"On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I offer our warm wishes to His Holiness Pope Francis," Obama said. "As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than 2,000 years."
British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande also issued statements of congratulations.
Wednesday was "a momentous day for the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world," Cameron said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he looked forward to cooperation with the Holy See under Pope Francis' "wise leadership," while European Union leaders Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso wished the new Catholic leader "a long and blessed pontificate."
The atmosphere across Latin America was jubilant, with people bursting into tears and cheers on streets from Buenos Aires to Caracas, Venezuela.
"It's incredible!" said Martha Ruiz, 60, who was weeping tears of emotion in the Argentine capital. She said she had been in many meetings with the cardinal and said, "He is a man who transmits great serenity."
At the St. Francis of Assisi church in the colonial Old San Juan district in Puerto Rico, church secretary Antonia Veloz exchanged jubilant high-fives with Jose Antonio Cruz, a Franciscan friar.
"It's a huge gift for all of Latin America. We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait," said Cruz, wearing the brown cassock tied with a rope that is the signature of the Franciscan order.
Even in Communist Cuba, there was pride as church bells rang to celebrate the news.
On Twitter, the pope's mothballed account was revived and read: "HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM," a reference to the cardinal's new name: Pope Francis.