Francis the First: World reacts to a new pontiff
Natacha Pisarenko / APPope Francis I blesses the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.
By Becky Bratu and Matthew DeLuca, NBC News
As white smoke rose from the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday and the bells of St. Peter's tolled, the crowd of thousands that had gathered in the square began cheering the election of a new pope to succeed Benedict.
Reactions poured in swiftly from around the world following Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's first appearance as Pope Francis I on St. Peter's balcony.
Pictures of the new pontiff were splashed across the homepages of newspapers in Argentina as he was presented to the world for the first time.
Latin American Catholics thrilled by the election of the cardinal wept and cheered in churches across the region at Bergoglio’s election.
“It’s a huge gift for all of Latin America,” Jose Antonion Cruz, a Franciscan friar in Puerto Rico told the Associated Press. “We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait.”
“I’m happy that they were able to come to a choice as quickly as they did,” House Speaker John Boehner, who is a Catholic, told NBC News. The selection of a pope from South America is “another big step in the right direction for our church,” Boehner said.
The pontifical Twitter handle came alive Wednesday after a silence that began with the resignation of Benedict XVI. “HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM,” the pope’s Twitter proclaimed.
British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted that it was a “momentous day for the 1.2 [billion] Catholics around the world,” as Pope Francis was appointed.
Outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, home to papal contender Cardinal Timothy Dolan, there were no tears that the avuncular archbishop wasn’t elected.
“I think it’s great,” said Sister Lucy Grygorcewicz, who was visiting the cathedral with a group of Felician Sister. “He’s representing a large constituency and it’s new and different.”
And while the American contenders did not carry the day, a member of arguably the country’s most prominent Catholic family weighed in.
“Love his calm demeanor,” Maria Shriver tweeted of the serene Holy Father. “It’s a new world … let it begin.”
Edward Egan, the Archbishop Emeritus of New York, told NBC News' Brian Williams that this was “the moment of Latin America.”
“I can assure you he’s not feeble in any way at 76,” he said.
Excitement was high at Boston College, which hosts one of the largest communities of Jesuit priests outside the Vatican.
“As a Jesuit University we’re delighted with the selection of Cardinal Bergoglio as pope,” university spokesman Jack Dunn told NBC News. “He’s a man of great humility and empathy with the poor and those are characteristics that have long been cherished among Jesuit circles.”
Cardinal Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, greeted the election of Pope Francis I as a “great milestone in our church” in a statement released on Wednesday.
“The bishops of the United States thank God for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the inspired choice of the College of Cardinals,” Dolan said in the statement.