To a man of his humble reputation the scenes in St Peter's Square must have been overwhelming. As soon as Pope Francis was unveiled as the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics a jubilant 100,000-strong crowd began to chant "Francesco, Francesco".
Until March 13 2013, he was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires.
"It seems my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world [to choose a pope]," he joked shyly in his first address from the balcony of St Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Born in Argentina to Italian immigrants, Pope Francis is the first Latin American to head the Roman Catholic Church. But the firsts don't stop there.
He is also the only pontiff from outside Europe in modern times. And probably one of the few to take the underground and fly economy class.
The son of a railway worker, he joined the priesthood in 1969. His ordination was followed by studies in Argentina and Germany.
Made a bishop in 1992, he became Archbishop of Buenos six years later. His sermons emphasised social justice and the importance of helping the poor.
Catholics were amazed in 2012 when he berated fellow church officials for forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.
Indeed his pontifical name has been chosen for St Francis of Assisi, who ministered to those in need.
His lifestyle reflected those concerns, eschewing the trappings of his position. As Cardinal Bergoglio, he lived in a simple flat in the building of the Archdiocese, next door to the cathedral.
When in Rome he often kept on his black robes, rather than donning the red and purple cardinal's vest he was entitled to, reports the BBC.
At 76, he is not significantly younger than his predecessor and he has lived with one lung since the other was removed because of an infection in his teenage years.
But the Church's 266th pope is in good shape and has youthful passions. He is known to be a supporter of Buenos Aires football team San Lorenzo de Almagro.
And in his hometown they celebrated his election with the fervour reserved for their most hard won sporting victories, blaring car horns and crying with joy.