The bells at St. Mary's Cathedral in Calgary rang out Wednesday afternoon after cardinals elected a new pope following just two days of voting.

Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, now to be known as Pope Francis, is the successor to Pope Benedict XVI and will lead roughly 1.2 billion Catholics around the world.

"My first reaction was, 'Who?'" said Father Greg Coupal of St. Mary's Cathedral. "He was one who was named as a possible but not one with whose name I was familiar."

Pope Francis is the first pontiff from the Americas.

"If you can imagine, we not only have a pope from the 'New World' for the first time, we also have a pope from the developing world so that will truly be historic," said CBC News Vatican correspondent David Perlich, who is from Calgary.

"He's considered a moderate within the church and very likely this is a pope who will concentrate on poverty, justice and economics. He's a deeply pastoral man," Perlich added.

After an early afternoon mass in downtown Calgary, Wendy Porter got the news from Rome on her smartphone.

"I have the Pope alarm," she said. "I've been watching it constantly."

Now that the Vatican has made its choice, Porter sees big challenges ahead.

"We have lapsed Catholics because they do not understand their faith system," she said. "If we don't want to be losing Catholics we need to be educating them about a 2,000-year-old church."

Catholic Robert Liddiard hopes the new pope will modernize the church.

"In a way the church is a little bit of an old boys club," he said. "I'd certainly like to see women have more of a role."

Pope addresses Catholics in Rome

The 266th Pope addressed the thousands of worshippers waiting in St. Peter's Square Wednesday.

He asked the faithful to pray for him and said that the world should set off "on a path of live and fraternity," according to a translation by Reuters.

The 76-year old was the runner-up to Benedict in the 2005 conclave and is known for supporting church teachings on homosexuality, abortion and contraception.

He has no Vatican experience.

Cardinals met more than a week before voting began to discuss possible contenders and no one candidate stood out at the time.

Many were expecting a drawn-out conclave that would further expose the divisions within the church but the cardinals in conclave reached the two-thirds majority needed to elect Pope Francis on the fifth round of ballots.

The last two popes, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, were elected after four ballots over the course of roughly 24 hours.

Three Canadian cardinals took part in the conclave.

One of them, Cardinal Marc Oullett from Quebec, was touted as a possible contender for the papacy.

The election took place following the surprise resignation of retired Pope Benedict XVI and intense debate among cardinals over what characteristics the new pope should have.

Benedict is the first pope in over 600 years to resign. Gregory XII ended his nine-year papacy in 1415 as part of a deal that ended the Western schism in the church.

The first pope to resign was Celestine V, who had been living as a hermit in the Italian mountains when he was elected in 1294. He resigned five months later after changing church rules to allow him to do so.

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Newly-elected Pope Francis addressed thousands of worshippers waiting in St. Peter's Square Wednesday. (L'Osservatore Romano/Getty Images)