March 13 - Pope Francis received a letter of congratulations from Argentine president Cristina Fernandez and is the first pontiff from Latin America, home to more than 40 percent of the world's Catholics. Rough Cut (no reporter narration)
The Catholic Church entered a new era on Wednesday (March 13) as 115 cardinals elected the first Latin American pope. Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, age 76, was chosen after a two-day long conclave. He will be the first non-European pope in 1,300 years. After Pope Benedict's surprise resignation last month, many speculated that the Church would look beyond Europe in efforts to refresh its image which has been plagued by sex abuse scandals, bureaucratic infighting, financial difficulties and the rise of secularism. Many Latin Americans were hoping that this year could mark an opportunity to break Europe's grip on the papacy. Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires on December 17, 1936, and was one of five children in middle class family. A respiratory illness, which he suffered during his youth, left him with only one lung. Having studied chemical engineering, Bergoglio entered the seminary in the Villa Devoto neighbourhood of his native city. In 1958 he joined the Jesuit order, and went on to study humanities in Chile before returning to Buenos Aires in 1960 where he got a degree in philosophy. In 1969, he was ordained a priest and just four years later was named provincial superior of Argentina, a post he held until 1979. In 1997 he was named coadjutor archbishop of Cardinal Antonio Quarracino, whom he automatically replaced as Archbishop of Buenos Aires when the cardinal died in 1998. He was the first from the Jesuit Order to ever hold this post. Three years later in 2001, he was made cardinal by Pope John Paul II. In the same year he stepped in to take over the Synod of Bishops at the last minute, and carried out the task to much acclaim. During Argentina's economic crisis in 2002, Bergoglio attacked the nation's politicians in his homilies, pointing to the terrible poverty and marginalisation within the country. His name appeared as one of the possible successors to John Paul II in 2005. As the faithful rejoiced over news of the first-ever Latin American pope, President Cristina Fernandez sent a letter to the 76-year-old pontiff, congratulating him on his new role as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. While Fernandez has had a sometimes distant relationship with Bergoglio due to his conservatism, the head of state wished him "fruitful pastoral work" and said that she was proud to have an Argentine in such an important position. The former cardinal angered the govenerment by speaking out against laws sponsored by leftist Fernandez over the last two years legalizing gay marraige and abortion in the cases of rape. Bergoglio, who will be known as Pope Francis, became the 266th pontiff in the Church's 2,000-year history. As a region, Latin America represents 42 percent of the world's Catholic population.