Political and religious leaders on Wednesday
welcomed the election of Argentina's Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the
world's first ever Latin American pope.
Argentina's Congress interrupted its session after television stations broke off their programming to announce Bergoglio's election as leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.
"There is a new pope and he is an Argentine," said Julian Dominguez, speaker of the lower house of the Argentinian Congress as Bergoglio confirmed his new title: Pope Francis.
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, with whom Bergoglio has crossed swords in the past, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, avoided any reference to his origins.
"It is our wish for you to have, as you take on the leadership and guidance of the Church, a fruitful pastoral task regarding such major responsibilities for the sake of justice, equality, fraternity and peace for humanity," she said in a brief letter.
Venezuela's caretaker president Nicolas Maduro saw the hand of late leader Hugo Chavez in the choice of the conclave of cardinals.
"We know our commander ascended into those heights and is standing before Christ. He must have exerted some influence for a South American pope to be elected," Maduro declared.
President Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas were among other leaders to send congratulations. Merkel, whose country produced Bergoglio's predecessor, Benedict XVI, said she was "especially happy for the Christians of Latin America."
Obama said the Argentinian's accession to the throne of St Peter, showed "the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world" and said all Americans, including millions of Hispanic Americans welcomed the "historic day."
Ban said that the church and the UN shared "many common goals" and that he hoped Pope Francis would continue Benedict's efforts to promote "inter-faith dialogue."
Abbas invited Pope Francis to visit Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus Christ.
World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder said the pope was "no stranger" to Jewish communities.
The cardinal had "always had an open ear for our concerns," Lauder said.
Catholic leaders expressed joy at the election of a humble figure, whose choice of papal name pays homage to Saint Francis of Assisi, a 13th century Italian friar who chose to live among the poor.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who participated in the conclave in the Vatican and was himself considered a possible contender for the job, said his peers had made an "inspired choice".
"As successor to Peter, our first pope, Pope Francis I stands as the figure of unity for all Catholics wherever they reside," he said in a statement issued by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The National Bishops' Conference of Brazil, which has the world's biggest Catholic population, saw the winds of change blowing through the Vatican.
The election of a Latin American showed "the Church is opening up, that it is devoted to the whole Church and not just to Europe's," Leonardo Steiner, secretary general of the conference said.
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