Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a German theologian known as a strict traditionalist, was elected pope yesterday, taking the name Benedict XVI and describing himself to a cheering crowd in St. Peter's Square as "a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord."
The new pope, 78, was elected by the 115 voting cardinals during the second day of their conclave in the Sistine Chapel. White smoke billowed in late afternoon from the chimney atop the chapel, and several minutes later the bells of St. Peter's Basilica rang out, confirming that a pope had been chosen.
After his election was announced by Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez of Chile, the new pope emerged from behind velvet drapery and told the crowd in Italian, "Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord."
As the first Germanic pope since the 11th century, he chose the name of the patron saint of Europe, a sign that he may put particular emphasis on reinvigorating the church in Western Europe, its historical heart.
But his election also meant there would be disappointment in Latin America, Africa and Asia, where many Catholics had hoped for selection of a pope from the Third World.
Some members of the crowd at St. Peter's responded with tears, others with deafening cheers and a spontaneous chant of "Benedict!"
The new pope was already well-known for his conservative principles as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John Paul II, a position that made him the church's overseer of the faith.
In that role, he gained notoriety among more liberal members of the hierarchy for his disciplinary actions against theologians whom he believed had strayed too far from traditional Catholic teaching.
Before the conclave, Ratzinger emerged as a likely contender to replace the man with whom he had worked so closely. As dean of the College of Cardinals, he was also well versed in the demands of public life.
Critics, however, had maintained that he would be a polarizing figure whose strict adherence to traditional teaching would turn away some of the faithful.
Yesterday, celebrating a final Mass for his fellow cardinals before they began their deliberations, he warned of a "dictatorship of relativism" if the church did not uphold its teachings as fundamental and intractable truths. He made clear his belief that the faithful must conform to an unchanging church.
For the vast majority in the crowd at St. Peter's, his election was a cause for celebration. Waving flags from more than a dozen nations, and packed together as tightly as for the funeral of Pope John Paul, the crowd this time was cheering.
In many ways, the new pope was not a stranger to them.
"He has been teaching the truth firmly and gently and always in love," said the Rev. Michael DeAscanis, a priest from the Baltimore archdiocese who is studying at Rome's Pontifical North American College and served Mass for the new pope when he was a cardinal.
"This is the best thing, he is the best person," said Barbara Wittman, a German accountant who had flown to Rome to witness the first appearance of a new pope. "He can change Catholics in my country. It is fantastic."
Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore said in a statement posted on his Web site that he had first met the new pope in 1983 and developed a closer relationship with him in 1989 during a bishops' conference at the Vatican.
"After the election we cardinals went to him, one by one," Keeler said yesterday. "I conveyed to him the love of the people of Baltimore and he responded in English, 'We must keep praying for each other.'"
There were also voices of dissent yesterday, saying the new pope's demands for strict observance of the church's teachings would stall Catholic growth and fervor.
"For my country, this is not a good choice," said Daisy Fonseca, a Brazilian secretary living in Rome. "I think that this Ratzinger is close-minded. He is of the Vatican. The Vatican is a very rich place and the people of my country are very, very poor. We need someone who thinks differently. I don't think he can understand Brazilians."
"It will be very difficult," said Anne-Marie Colafranceschi, a teacher from France.
A young Italian criticized the new pope for a conservatism that risked alienating younger Catholics. "A reconciliation between the dogmas of the church and the people needs to be made," said Roberto Curcuruto, 20.
Before giving Ratzinger the necessary two-thirds majority, the cardinals voted once Monday and at least twice yesterday morning.
Of the eight conclaves since 1903, only two previous ones had ended after only two days.
The new pope stepped onto the balcony above St. Peter's Square at 6:49 p.m. (12:49 EDT), about an hour after the white smoke announced the election.
"I am comforted by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and act even with insufficient instruments," he said in his first remarks. "And above all, I entrust myself to your prayers. With the joy of the risen Lord and confidence in his constant help, we will go forward. The Lord will help us and Mary his most holy mother will be alongside us."