VATICAN CITY, April 19 -- Joseph Ratzinger, a German-born cardinal and the Vatican's guardian of religious orthodoxy, was swiftly elected Tuesday by the College of Cardinals as the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church. He chose the name Pope Benedict XVI.
Late in the first full day of a conclave of 115 voting cardinals at the Sistine Chapel, shortly before 6 p.m., white smoke streamed from a chimney over the hallowed chapel. The crowd of 20,000 in St. Peter's Square cheered at the indication a pontiff had been chosen. Within minutes, bells pealed in confirmation, and about an hour later, Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez of Chile stood before the throng and heralded the news with the traditional Latin words "Habemus papam" -- "We have a pope."
The new pope then emerged on a balcony of the cream-colored marble facade of St. Peter's Basilica, wearing newly tailored white robes, a gold-embroidered burgundy stole, scarlet mantle and ivory-colored skullcap.
"Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble worker in the Lord's vineyard," the new pontiff said, raising his arms to respond to the applause.
"The fact that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me, and above all, I entrust myself to your prayers," he said, speaking German-accented Italian.
"Benedetto!" responded the crowd, the new pope's name in Italian, which also means blessed. "Viva il papa!" -- " Long live the pope!"
Ratzinger, who was born in the Bavarian mountain town of Marktl am Inn, celebrated his 78th birthday on Saturday. No one older has been elected pope since the 18th century. His election defied the opinion of some that the cardinals would choose a low-key, conciliatory churchman to follow Pope John Paul II, whose vigorous travels in a 26-year reign made the papacy a global attraction.
"We were looking for a successor of John Paul II," Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia said late Tuesday, meeting with reporters at the North American College in Rome. "All of us were talking about the incredible qualities of John Paul II, knowing the world is calling him 'the Great.' " Rigali said cardinals were swayed by their desire to find someone most like John Paul.
Also at the session was Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, who said the new pope "obviously" had support from the Third World. There has been concern because Ratzinger opposed liberation theology, in which sometimes radical members of the church have worked on behalf of the poor.
Speaking to reporters in Vatican City, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the archbishop of Cologne, Germany, said cardinals broke out in applause when they realized Ratzinger had passed the threshold of a two-thirds majority.
"It was done without an electoral battle, and without propaganda," he said, adding that he began crying when the decision was made. "For me, it was a miracle."
Until the eve of the conclave, Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, issued strong critiques of what he viewed as wayward thinking. He spoke out forcefully about the value of absolute beliefs, indicating continued rejection of dissent from key Catholic teachings, including the bans on contraception and the ordination of women. He stood behind continued Vatican control of key decision-making. Ratzinger had been among John Paul's closest allies and served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, one of the Vatican's most important posts.
At the first reports of smoke from the chapel, schoolchildren, office workers, tourists, nuns and seminarians raced to St. Peter's Square on foot, by bus and in taxis.
It appeared at first to be gray smoke. In a variety of tongues, people called out, "Is it black?" -- which would mean no pope had been chosen yet. But slowly they realized the smoke was billowing white.