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First non-European pope in 1,200 years named after St. Francis

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Habemas papam Franciscum

First non-European pope in 1,200 years named after St. Francis

  • Then-Cardinal Bergoglio in a 2012 photo.
    Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires/FlickrThen-Cardinal Bergoglio in a 2012 photo.
  • A screenshot of the Vatican website.
    A screenshot of the Vatican website.

For only the second time in history, the Roman Catholic Church is headed by a man not from Europe. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope on Wednesday, the second day of a papal conclave. Naming himself after Francis of Assisi, the new pope is also the first Jesuit to be elected to the Throne of St. Peter.

Pope Francis I gave a brief speech from a Vatican balcony, and asked those gathered there to pray for him during a long moment of silence.

"It seems to me that my brothers and cardinals have chosen one who is from far away, but here I am," Francis said.

Francis' election marks the first time a non-European was chosen as pope since the election of Syrian-born Gregory III in 731.

Francis is the first pope to choose to be named after St. Francis of Assisi, one of the most revered figures in Catholic history. Known for caring for the poor, St. Francis was a religious reformer and remains a symbol of simplicity and humility within the church.

The 76-year-old pope, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elevated as a cardinal in 2011. In becoming the 266th head of the church, he succeeds Benedict XVI, one of the few popes to ever retire rather than die in office.

The Argentine has been criticized for conservative positions on abortion and gay marriage. He was charged in 2005 with conspiring with Argentina's military junta in 1976, during that country's "Dirty War," to kidnap two priests who backed an overthrow of the dictatorship. That charge came as Bergoglio was rumored to be a contender during the last papal conclave. The allegations were denied, and no evidence was presented to link Bergoglio with the crime.

From Wikipedia:

As Cardinal, Bergoglio became known for personal humility, doctrinal conservatism and a commitment to social justice. A simple lifestyle has contributed to his reputation for humility. He lives in a small apartment, rather than in the palatial bishop's residence. He gave up his chauffeured limousine in favor of public transportation, and he reportedly cooks his own meals.


Bergoglio is an accomplished theologian who distanced himself from liberation theology early in his career. He is thought to be close to Comunione e Liberazione, a conservative lay movement.


Rather than articulating positions on matters of political economy, Bergoglio prefers to emphasize spirituality and holiness, believing that this will naturally lead to greater concern for the suffering of the poor. He has, however, preached a message of compassion towards the poor, voiced support for social programs, and publicly challenged free-market policies.

Correction: An earlier version of this story overlooked Gregory III as the only other pope who was not European.

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