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Why new pope's elevation is a surprise

Pope Francis I, formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, is the first South American to lead the Catholic Church. Catholics in the Vatican, Argentina and around the world celebrated his selection. 

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Despite his late start, he was leading the local Jesuit community within four years.  Bergoglio has a reputation as someone willing to challenge powerful interests and has had a sometimes difficult relationship with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner.

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Displaying his conservative orthodoxy, he has spoken out strongly against gay marriage, denouncing it in 2010 as "an attempt to destroy God's plan," and is expected to pursue the uncompromising moral teachings of Benedict and John Paul II.

Not everyone liked the look of his profile.

"I think they missed an opportunity to renew themselves. They've picked another old guy," said Daniel Villalpando, a 32-year-old web designer in Mexico City. "Sure, he's a Latino, but they got the most European of the Latinos."

Bergoglio is the first Jesuit to become pope. The order was founded in the 16th century to serve the papacy and is best known for its work in education and for the intellectual prowess of its members.

"I did not expect to see him in white tonight. I think it was a surprise, but it shows the courage of the cardinals to decide to cross the ocean and therefore to broaden perspectives," said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.

The Vatican said his inaugural Mass would be held on Tuesday. U.S. President Barack Obama said the election of Francis "speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world."

Age concerns

In preparatory meetings before the conclave, the cardinals seemed divided between those who believed the new pontiff must be a strong manager to get the dysfunctional bureaucracy under control and others who were looking more for a proven pastoral figure to revitalise their faith across the globe.

Bergoglio was a rival candidate at the 2005 conclave to Benedict, but his name had not appeared on lists of possible contenders this time around, with many discounting him because of his age, thinking prelates wanted a younger leader.

The secret conclave began on Tuesday night with a first inconclusive ballot. Three more inconclusive ballots were held on Wednesday before Francis obtained the required two-thirds majority of 77 votes in the fifth and final vote.

Billowing white smoke poured from the Sistine Chapel and the bells of St. Peter's Basilica rang out to announce the news, drawing Romans and tourists to the Vatican.

"May God forgive you," Bergoglio said to the cardinals at a subsequent dinner, raising loud laughter, according to New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

He is due to make a private visit to a Rome basilica on Thursday and then meet Benedict, who is secluded in the papal summer residence outside Rome. Francis will celebrate a Mass with cardinals in the late afternoon.

(Additional reporting by Catherine Hornby, Naomi O'Leary, Tom Heneghan, Barry Moody and Keith Weir; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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