BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Latin Americans reacted with joy, bursting into tears and cheers on Wednesday at news that an Argentine cardinal has become the first pope from the Western Hemisphere.
"It's incredible!" said Martha Ruiz, 60, who was weeping after learning that the cardinal she knew as Jorge Mario Bergoglio will now be Pope Francis.
She said she had been in many meetings with the cardinal and said, "He is a man who transmits great serenity."
Cars honked their horns as the news spread and television announcers screamed with elation and surprise, and Catholics began flooding toward the cathedral, where Ana Maria Perez and a few dozen other women had been waiting for the announcement.
"He is going to be the pope of the street," she said, referring to Bergoglio's habit of taking the subways alongside working class Argentines.
There was excitement elsewhere as well.
At the St. Francis of Assisi church in the colonial Old San Juan district in Puerto Rico, church secretary Antonia Veloz exchanged jubilant high-fives with Jose Antonio Cruz, a Franciscan friar.
Cruz said he personally favored the Brazilian candidate but was pleased with the outcome, saying the new pope would help revitalize the church.
"It's a huge gift for all of Latin America. We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait," said Cruz, wearing the brown cassock tied with a rope that is the signature of the Franciscan order. "Everyone from Canada down to Patagonia is going to feel blessed. This is an event."
"This is something exciting," 50-year-old Veloz said of the new Argentine pope. "I'm speechless."
In Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the bells pealed in the city's main cathedral in the colonial district.
In Panama City, public relations executive Nelsa Aponte said with teary eyes, "This made me cry, I had to get out my handkerchief."
"We have a new pastor, and for the first time, he is from Latin America."
Armando Connell, 54, a doorman at a luxury hotel in Panama City, expressed hope that "the new pope will be closer to us, and will show more concern about the poverty many of us suffer."
In Mexico City, pediatrician Victor De la Rosa, 64, said the decision "is going to allow Latin America to be more involved in the church's decisions, above all in modernizing the church."