Across the Catholic world, the new pope has excited the faithful and triggered an outpouring of love and affection for the man who was chosen on March 12, the second day of the papal conclave.
Sister Priscilla Busingye crystallizes the euphoria that has enveloped Catholics at the elevation of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to become the church's 266th pontiff.
The Ugandan native broke out into a broad smile.
"Oh, it was great news, my heart felt ... it was like a big celebration in my heart," said Busingye, a doctor who was in Washington to attend a health conference. "God inspired [Pope] Benedict to resign so that Francis could become pope. I really feel great."
"I was welcomed here by this news," said Busingye, who is a member of the order of the Daughters of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus in Uganda. "God has spoken so loudly. He wants the nations to focus on Christian values."
Bergoglio took the name of Francis, in homage to St. Francis of Assisi, as well as to St. Francis Xavier, himself a Jesuit and servant of the poor.
While serving in Argentina, the 76-year-old pope gained a reputation as an austere man who lived in a modest apartment, cooked his own food, used public transportation routinely and kissed and washed the feet of AIDS patients and drug addicts. And in the week since his selection, he, by his actions, has the laity enthralled with his humility, his simplicity and a message that suggests a new focus. The pope is the first Jesuit and the first pope chosen from the Americas, although his father was an Italian who emigrated to Buenos Aires in the 1930s.
While standing on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, the pope greeted the crowd in a soft-spoken voice, asked them to pray for his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, led them in prayer and then asked them to pray for him.
"Now let us begin the journey," he said after a moment of silent prayer.
In his first full day as pontiff, the pope began with prayer at St. Mary Major Church before traveling personally to the clergy hotel to pay his bill.
Already, he has eschewed the trappings of office by wearing a simple white cassock without the red papal cape and a pectoral cross he wore while he was a bishop and the archbishop of Buenos Aires. And on Sunday after delivering his first Angelus – the noon blessing – he stunned onlookers by stepping outside Sant'Anna Gate onto the street to greet the faithful and other well-wishers.
Pope Francis was formally installed in a ceremony at the Vatican Tuesday morning.
Pope Francis inherits a church of 1.2 billion followers mired in scandal after more than a decade of revelations of priests' molesting children and young people and a cover-up by the church hierarchy that has infuriated parishioners and other critics. He faces a fractious, deeply divided congregation; an entrenched, anachronistic bureaucracy; Machiavellian political intrigue; and an institution with entangled finances and reputed financial ties to the Mafia. He must find a bridge between conservative elements and more liberal factions of the hierarchy and the church, work to attract new adherents, but more importantly he has to figure out how to help the church find its way back to skeptical and turned-off Catholics who are no longer part of the church.
Emily Smith, a 21-year-old senior at the Catholic University of America in Northeast, said she watched television keeping a close eye on the conclave while in class.
"It was a really exciting day on campus," the New York native said of Francis' selection. "Everyone was buzzing. It was a wise choice. I hope he renews the world's sense of faith. I hope he is welcoming to everyone and is open-minded as we move forward."
The Rev. Phillip J. Brown, Rector of the Theological College at Catholic University said the cardinals' selection caught him off-guard.
"I was not familiar with Cardinal Bergoglio. He was not mentioned prominently. It was a surprise and a wonder. I had to find out more about him," he said. "I'm delighted to have an American chosen. It expressed the global nature of the church and embraced the family."
Brown, 61, noted that the pope as a Jesuit represents the intellectuals in the church.
"He's a very simple man who's lived his life for the poor and disadvantaged," said Brown, who hails from Bismarck, N.D. "The church has given us a humble man who has lived an impoverished existence. The spirit has given us the man we need. There has been a very enthusiastic reaction from the laity."
"I was picking up groceries at Whole Foods and someone came out of the blue and said 'Congrats,'" said Brown.
Brown said the pope's interest in ecumenicalism is a hopeful sign.
"It's a big deal because he's the first Jesuit. By that very fact it's a big deal," said Brown, during an interview on Friday, March 15. "The Jesuits have a long, powerful tradition in the church. It's not like he's any Jesuit."
"Where this is significant and with his choice is not with [the Jesuit's] intellectual tradition but it's terribly significant because of their commitment to social justice, catering to the poor and distributing resources in ways that are equitable and fair."
Brown joked about a conversation he had with a Jesuit visitor earlier last week.
"I told him he should be celebrating and he said 'if a Jesuit ever becomes pope, that means the end is near.'"
At St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Southeast, the pride with which congregants carried themselves was apparent. The fact that Bergoglio chose the name Francis was not lost on them either.
"We're thrilled. Anytime the See of St. Peter is vacant, it's very disconcerting," said Father Jim Boccabella. "Now that the pope is chosen, it's a powerful thing."
Boccabella said he is impressed with the pope's humility that he brings to his office, "and he may bring some new things to the church."
Willis C. Daniels, an ordained minister in the Catholic Church since 1995 and a co-celebrant with Boccabella, beamed.
"I'm happy, jubilant," he said. "I give thanks to God. I really believe this is the Holy Spirit's choice."
Marie Cunningham-Brown, a retired federal government employee, looked beatific.
"It's just exciting. The whole process is just so spiritual," said Cunningham-Brown, who has been a Catholic since age 12. "We truly believe in his infallibility and the leadership he shows. Despite some of the things we've seen such as wars and the slavery of people of color, I've found that because of the church's spirit and attitude, I've gained spiritual grounding and an excellent education."
"I'm hoping for great things. My bucket list was to see a black president and I hope to see a black pope."