'Most stunning' choice of name
His selection of the name of Pope Francis is "the most stunning" choice and "precedent shattering," CNN Vatican analyst John Allen said. "The new pope is sending a signal that this will not be business as usual."
The name symbolizes "poverty, humility, simplicity and rebuilding the Catholic Church," Allen said.
Miguel Diaz, a former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, agreed, calling the new pontiff's choice of names "very significant."
"Francis of Assisi is the saint who opted for the little ones in God's kingdom," he said. "This man represents a change and could potentially be a great gift for leadership, servant leadership, for all of us within the church and society."
It is something the Catholic Church says it desperately needs.
"If you look back over the past years -- the crisis of abuse, the scandals here at the Vatican, financial mismanagement, questions about the leaks and everything -- when you step back from it all, every crisis we faced ultimately is a crisis of holiness that we've missed the calling," said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, the Vatican's deputy spokesman.
"We've moved far away from what we're supposed to be."
Word of the election of Pope Francis, who was not considered a frontrunner among analysts, quickly spread around the globe, with everyone from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to U.S. President Barack Obama offering congratulations.
"As the first pope from the Americas, his selection also speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world, and alongside millions of Hispanic Americans, those of us in the United States share the joy of this historic day," Obama said.
Ban said the new pope shares common goals with the United Nations, from the promotion of peace to social justice. "We also share the conviction that we can only resolve the interconnected challenges of today's world through dialogue," he said.
There is likely to be no shortage of invitations for Pope Francis to travel to the four corners of the globe in the pursuit of such goals.
Syria's Patriarch Gregory III Laham of Antioch, who heads the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, on Thursday invited Francis to visit Syria, Jerusalem and Lebanon for peace and reconciliation, according to Syria's official news agency.
Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also urged him to visit the Middle East.
"He'll be a welcome guest in the Holy Land, as a man of inspiration that can add to the attempt to bring peace in a stormy area," said Peres.
Nowhere was the reaction to Francis' selection as pope more heartfelt than in Latin America.
"I am truly still very surprised ... not just that a Latino pope came out, but that he is an Argentinian from Buenos Aires," the Rev. Eduardo Mangiarotti, an Argentine priest, told CNN en Español.
It's a "huge event" not only for the church in Latin America but worldwide, he said.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, greeted the selection with "extraordinary joy."
"I have been hoping that we would move into the Southern Hemisphere, and especially I think many of us had hoped ... we would have a pope who would come from Latin America," he said.
"One-half of the Catholics in the world are from Latin America, so this is a way the cardinals have very graciously acknowledged that."
Filipino priest and CNN iReporter Joel Camaya was among the tens of thousands who witnessed history Wednesday night in St. Peter's Square, as Francis emerged on the balcony.
"The multitude, from all parts of the world, were ecstatic to be in the square for this beautiful occasion," he said. "This was one event that left me teary-eyed and thanking God for making me a Catholic."