EU leaders wish Pope Francis strength to promote ‘values’

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The leaders of the European institutions sent messages of congratulations to newly elected Pope Francis. Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina becomes the first Latin American to lead the troubled Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Francis, 76, appeared on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica Wednesday night, just over an hour after white smoke poured from a chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel to signal 115 cardinal electors had chosen him to lead the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

"Pray for me," the new pontiff, dressed in the white robes of a pope for the first time, urged a crowd of tens of thousands of people waiting in the square below.

Francis will replace 85-year-old Benedict, who resigned last month (see background).

The choice of Bergoglio, who is the first Latin American and first Jesuit pope, was announced by French cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran with the Latin words "Habemus Papam" ("We have a pope.")

Francis has became the 266th pontiff in the Church's 2,000-year history at a time of great crisis, with the church under fire over a child sex abuse scandal and torn by infighting in the Vatican bureaucracy.

Best wishes from EU leaders

In a joint message of congratulations, Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Council President Herman Van Rompuy wished Pope Francis “a long and blessed Pontificate”, which will allow him and the Catholic Church “to defend and promote the fundamental values of peace, solidarity and human dignity.

“They are essential sign posts in a world facing numerous challenges and undergoing deep change,” Barroso and Van Rompuy state.

“We are convinced that your Holiness will continue to further with determination and strength the work of your predecessors by bringing the world's people and religions closer together,” their message ends.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz wished Pope Francis “courage and strength” at a time when the Roman Catholic Church “faces numerous and momentous challenges”. The choice of a Pope from outside Europe is an encouraging sign, he stated.

“A new impetus is necessary to revive the fundamental values which are at the basis of Christianity such as solidarity, peace among nations and peoples, tolerance and support for the weakest and the poorest. These values are needed more than ever in a world which risks being engulfed in a spiral of materialism and inequality," Schulz said.

A symbolic name

Although a conservative theologically, Francis is known for his concern for the poor and is expected to bring a radical change of style to the Church leadership, indicated by his choice for the first time of the name of St Francis of Assisi, who died in 1226 after living a life of poverty and simplicity.

He immediately showed the difference from his predecessor Benedict, an aloof theologian, with a gesture of humility, asking the waiting crowd to bless him before he blessed them.

Bergoglio is the oldest of most of the possible candidates and was barely mentioned in feverish speculation about the top contenders before the conclave.

He is the first non-European pope since Syrian-born Gregory III in the eighth century, and the third successive non-Italian pontiff.

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