From ''the end of the earth,'' the Catholic Church has found a surprising new leader, a pioneer pope from Argentina who took the name Francis, a pastor rather than a manager to resurrect a church and faith in crisis.
He is the first pontiff from the New World and the first non-European since the Middle Ages.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires who has spent nearly his entire career in Argentina, was a fast and fitting choice for the most unpredictable papal succession - start to finish - in at least six centuries.
He is the first pope from the Americas, the first Jesuit and the first named Francis, apparently after St Francis of Assisi, the humble friar who dedicated his life to helping the poor.
The last non-European pope was Syria's Gregory III from 731-41.
''You know that the work of the conclave is to give a bishop to Rome,'' the new pontiff said as he waved shyly to the tens of thousands who braved a cold rain in St Peter's Square.
He appeared on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on Wednesday night (Thursday morning NZ time) just over an hour after white smoke poured from a chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel to signal he had been chosen to lead the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
''It seems as if my brother cardinals went to find him from the end of the earth, but here we are. Thank you for the welcome.''
The 76-year-old Bergoglio, said to have finished second when Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005, was chosen on just the fifth ballot to replace the first pontiff to resign in 600 years.
In the past century, only Benedict, John Paul I in 1978 and Pius XII in 1939 were faster.
The choice of Bergoglio was announced by French cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran with the Latin words "Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus Papam" ("I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope")
As Buenos Aires' cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was renowned for his simple lifestyle, riding the bus to work, living in a basic apartment and tending to the poor.
As the Catholic church's new leader, he is expected to focus on poverty and reaching out to believers.
He is the first Latin American pope and the first pope from the Jesuit (society of Jesus,) order.
The Jesuit order, colloquially known as "God's Marines", demands four vows: poverty, chastity, obedience to Christ, and obedience to the Pope.
He is considered as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed.
Bergoglio often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina's capital.
He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.
He has accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy and forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.
Bergoglio has stood out for his austerity.
Even after he became Argentina's top church official in 2001, he never lived in the ornate church mansion where Pope John Paul II stayed when visiting the country, preferring a simple bed in a downtown building, heated by a small stove on frigid weekends. For years, he took public transportation around the city, and cooked his own meals.
Bergoglio almost never granted media interviews, limiting himself to speeches from the pulpit, and was reluctant to contradict his critics.
His outspoken criticism couldn't prevent Argentina from becoming the Latin American country to legalise gay marriage, or stop its leaders from promoting free contraception and artificial insemination.
FRANCIS: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE NAME
In choosing a name no other pope had ever taken, Pope Francis could be signaling that he sees the need for change in the Roman Catholic church.
The name recalls two of the church's most famous saints.
One is Francis of Assisi, the man from the Umbrian hill town who renounced a wealthy, dissolute lifestyle to found the Franciscan order of friars in 1209, embracing a life of poverty and simplicity and going out in the countryside to preach a message of joy and peace.
The other is Francis Xavier, a globe-trotting Spaniard who became one of Christianity's greatest missionaries, and was a founding figure of the Jesuit order, of which the new pope is a member.
Pope Francis didn't cite either of those famous men when he made his first public speech as pontiff, but within an hour of his presentation to the world from St Peter's Basilica, his choice of name was being hailed as heralding what could be his priorities - and perhaps style - at the helm of a troubled church.
FIRST JESUIT POPE
He is the first Jesuit to become pope.
The decision by 115 cardinal electors sequestered in a secret conclave in the Sistine Chapel came sooner than many experts expected because there were several frontrunners before the vote to replace Pope Benedict, who resigned in February.
The cardinals faced a thorny task in finding a leader capable of overcoming crises caused by priestly child abuse and a leak of secret papal documents that uncovered corruption and rivalry inside the Church government or Curia.
The wave of problems is thought to have contributed to Benedict's decision to become the first pontiff in 600 years to abdicate.
Thousands of people sheltering from heavy rain under a sea of umbrellas had occupied the square all day to await the decision and the crowd swelled as soon as the white smoke emerged.
They cheered wildly and raced towards the basilica as the smoke billowed from a narrow makeshift chimney and St Peter's bells rang.
The excited crowd cheered even more loudly when Francis appeared, the first pontiff to take that name. "Viva il Papa (pope)" they chanted.
"I wasn't expecting it, but I'm absolutely delighted. It's a very unique moment. There is a great sense of unity here. It's great they have come to a decision about who will lead the Church," said John Mcginley, a Scottish priest from Glasgow who travelled to see the conclave.
"It's a great moment in history, something I can tell my mum," said David Brasch, 30, from Brisbane, Australia. "He's got to get the child abuse under control, I don't know how they're going to do that. He's got to unite 1.2 billion people."
Bands from the Italian armed forces and the Vatican's own Swiss guard army paraded in front of the basilica before the new pope appeared.
The secret conclave began on Tuesday night (local time) with a first ballot and four ballots were held on Wednesday. Francis obtained the required two thirds majority in the fifth ballot.
Following a split ballot when they were first shut away amid the chapel's Renaissance splendour on Tuesday evening, the cardinal electors held a first full day of deliberations on Wednesday. Black smoke rose after the morning session to signal no decision.
The Roman Catholic Popes of the past 135 years:
- Pope Francis - March 13, 2013-
- Benedict XVI - April 19, 2005-February 28, 2013
- John Paul II - Oct. 16, 1978-April 2, 2005.
- John Paul I - August 26-September 28, 1978.
- Paul VI - June 21, 1963-August 6, 1978.
- John XXIII - October 28, 1958-June 3, 1963.
- Pius XII - March 2, 1939-October 9, 1958.
- Pius XI - Febraury 6, 1922-February 10, 1939.
- Benedict XV - September 3, 1914-January 22, 1922.
- Pius X - August 4, 1903-August 20, 1914.
- Leo XIII - February 20, 1878-July 20, 1903.