Population: 2.2 million
GDP per capita: $18, 200 (2012)
Religion: 90% Catholic, 2% Protestant, 2% Jewish, 4 % other.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Latin Americans burst into tears and cheers on Wednesday at news that an Argentine cardinal has become the first pope from the hemisphere, expressing hope that he will better understand the region that is home to more Catholics than any other.
Cars honked their horns through the streets of Argentina's capital and television announcers screamed with elation at the news that the cardinal they knew as Jorge Mario Bergoglio had become Pope Francis.
"It's incredible!" said Martha Ruiz, 60, who was weeping after learning that the cardinal she knew as Jorge Mario Bergoglio will now be Pope Francis.
She said she had been in many meetings with the cardinal and said, "He is a man who transmits great serenity."
Cars honked their horns as the news spread and television announcers screamed with elation and surprise and Catholics began flooding toward the cathedral, where Ana Maria Perez and a few dozen other women had been waiting for the announcement.
"He is going to be the pope of the street," she said, referring to Bergoglio's habit of taking the subways alongside working class Argentines.
"It's a huge gift for all of Latin America. We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait," said Jose Antonio Cruz, a Franciscan friar at the church of St. Francis of Assisi in the colonial Old San Juan district in Puerto Rico.
"Everyone from Canada down to Patagonia is going to feel blessed," he said after exchanging high-fives with church secretary Antonia Veloz.
In Cuba, parish priest Gregorio Alvarez said he believes Pope Francis' background could lead the church to focus more on the ills afflicting humanity, and less on internal issues.
"One hopes that the church will be closer to the problems of humankind and not only the problems of the church," Alvarez said at the Jesus of Miramar Church in a leafy western suburb of Havana, where bells pealed following the announcement.
For some of the poor, the choice has already brought benefits. Juan Carlos Alarcon, a 58-year-old street vendor, came to the Buenos Aires cathedral with a load of Argentine flags to sell.
"I have to take advantage of this historic moment to feed my family," he said.