The 76-year-old reportedly received the second most votes after Joseph Ratzinger, the last Pope, in the 2005 papal election.
And as a representative of South America's Catholics – who make up an estimated 40% of the 1.2 billion-strong Church, he was widely supported.
He became Pope Francis after a surprisingly quick conclave, winning 77 votes, or two-thirds of the 115 cardinals' votes, on the fifth ballot.
His decision to pick the name Francis evokes key Christian tenets such as simplicity and humility. They are fitting for a man who is known for catching the bus and eschewing luxuries.
Classed by some as a moderniser of a strict South American Church, he is still conservative and an opponent of such ideas as gay marriage.
But the former cardinal and now Bishop of Rome is still seen as an open-minded moderate.
His family are from Turin, his father was an immigrant railway worker and he studied theology in Germany.
He is known for looking after himself; cooking his own meals and living a frugal existence, preferring a simple downtown Buenos Aires apartment.
The holy man has four brothers and sisters.
In 1958 he entered the Society of Jesus and began studying for the priesthood.
From 1973 to 1979 he served as the Jesuit provincial in Argentina. In 1980 he became the rector of the seminary he graduated from and he was named auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992.
Pope John Paul II made Bergoglio a cardinal in 2001.
Pope Francis is widely described as a champion of the poor and unfortunate.
He displayed deep compassion for HIV and Aids sufferers in 2001, visiting a hospice to kiss and wash the feet of 12 patients.
He won the papacy for reasons such as his evangelical success, the belief he will unite the First and developing worlds, and he is liked by the Church's conservatives and modernisers alike.
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