The Franciscan pope of hope

The world has welcomed Pope Francis as a humble champion of the poor.

The new leader of the Catholic Church, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who will be known as Pope Francis, was elected on 13 March, 2013. Picture: AFP.

VATICAN - Latin America's Roman Catholics rejoiced that the new Pope Francis is one of their own, while elsewhere the world has hailed him as a humble champion of the poor and wished him the strength to lead the Church out of crisis.

Commentators said Francis had a reputation for being as conservative as his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

But Latin American Catholics celebrated the fact that the cardinals had, in his words, gone "to the end of the world" to find him.

"A Latino is more open to others, while a European is more closed," said 75-year-old Ana Solis outside Santiago's Metropolitan Cathedral in Chile.

"A change like this will be very important for us Latin Americans."

Latin America is home to 42 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics and the election of Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio ended nearly 1,300 years of popes born in Europe.

The choice of papal name in tribute to the mediaeval Saint Francis of Assisi, known for a life of poverty and simplicity, also suggested an emphasis on humility from a man known at home for cooking his own meals and travelling by bus.

U.S. President Barack Obama called him "a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us".

For Protestants, whose Christian forebears broke with Rome 500 years ago, the World Communion of Reformed Churches wrote to Francis saying: "We are touched by your humility ... The name you have chosen is a sign for us that attention to the plight of the poor and justice for all people will be important for you."

Francis must tackle crises caused by child abuse by priests and the leak of secret papal documents that uncovered corruption and rivalry inside the Church - trouble that Benedict declared in February was, at age 85, beyond his physical capabilities.

Enda Kenny, the prime minister of staunchly Catholic Ireland who has accused the Vatican of hampering an inquiry into child sex abuse by Irish priests, summed up the thoughts of many:

"We pray that he will have the strength, the good health and the spiritual guidance needed to lead the Catholic Church in the many challenges it faces."