Catholics around the world yesterday hailed the selection of their church's first non-Italian pope in 456 years - Cardinal Karel Wojtyla, archbishop of Krakow.

Although the choice by the College of Cardinals was unexpected, the 58-year-old Polish churchman is well known among American church leaders.

He was characterized by those who know him as both a great spiritual leader and a man singularly equipped to roll up his sleeves and tackle the mountain of problems that has overflowed the pontifical in basket since the death of Paul VI two months ago.

Cardinal Wojtyla visited the United States in 1969 and 1976. During the second visit he participated in the international Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, then traveled around the country.

Other American leaders met the Polish cardinal through participation in international church affairs.

"He is a man of extraordinary brilliance and great personal warmth," said Bishop Thomas C. Kelly, general secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Kelly also praised the new pope's "personal holiness, his pastrol solicitude, his capacity to motivate his flock and his deep concern for all God's people." It was an inventory of strengths frequently echoed by others who know him.

"He is a man of great faith, of deep spirituality, a very courageous person, a very simple person in terms of life style," said Archbishop Joseph L. Bernardin of Cincinnati, former president of the American Catholic hierarchy.

Bernadin, who said he was a guest in Cardinal Wojtyla's home two years ago, also knows him through contacts on the Vatican's permanent Committee on the Synod of Bishops, on which both have served for the past four years.

He expressed the opinion that the new pope's participation in the Synod, a body of bishops authorized by the Second Vatican Council to advise the pope, would ensure the continuation of collegiality - sharing of responsibility with the bishops - in the church.

[President Carter, returning to the White House from a two-day visit to Camp David, said the election of Pope John Paul II was "very exciting" and a "very good move," the Associated Press reported.]

[Carter told reporters the new pope was a friend of Zbigniew Brzezinski, the president's national security adviser, a native of Poland.]

["Like his predecessor, Pope John Paul II has shared the experience of working people, and understands the daily victories and defeats of human life."]

For many, the election of the new pope was a matter of Polish pride. In Chicago, said to have more Poles than any city outside Warsaw, Roman Catholic Auxiliary Archbishop Alfred Abramowicz, proclaimed himself "deliriously happy."

Another of the American church's few Polish-American leaders, Bishop Stanislaus Brzana of Ogdensburg, N.Y., praised the church's new head as "a very deep philosopher," recalling Cardinal Wojtyla's visit to nearby Buffalo two years ago.

In Washington, Prof. Jude Dougherty, dean of the school of philosophy, at Catholic University, recalled Cardinal Wojtyla's visit here in July 1976, to give a lecture. The invited audience of philosophy scholars, he said, "recognized that they were not only in the presence of a cardinal of the church but also a very decent philosopher as well."

The Rev. John Tracy Ellis, one of the foremost contemporary Catholic historians, said he was "very pleasantly surprised by the choice." He added that it was "a very healthy thing to have a new sector of church" - namely the Eastern European church - brought into limelight.

"It emphasizes the universality of the church," he said. "Paul did a great deal to internationalize the church in its top offices" by appointing cardinals from all over the world and internationalizing the Curia, he observed, "and here it is [internationalized] at the very top."

"I am just thrilled with the choice," said Bishop James S. Rausch of Phoenix who visited Poland with Archbishop Bernardin in May of 1976. "So much is being said with this choice," he said. "I think it puts the church strongly on record that it is going to do battle with the secularizing forces of communism."