VATICAN CITY - White smoke poured out of the Sistine Chapel chimney Wednesday to roars of joy from the throngs jamming St. Peter's Square.
The new pope, his name not yet revealed, is expected to greet the masses from the balcony of St. Peter's Basillica shortly.
The 115 voting cardinals took four or five votes over two days to reach their decision, which required a two-thirds majority and came after a week of intense meetings. The cardinal conclave came on the heels of the surprising resignation of Pope Benedict XVI last month.
Benedict, who did not participate in the election, cited health reasons in becoming the first pope to step down in some 600 years. In his eight years the church solidified its message on core Catholic values such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage, and saw gains in membership in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
But his departure comes at a time when the church has lost membership in Europe and the United States, is dealing with financial mismanagement of church assets and still trying to overcome the "scourge" as Benedict described the past cases of priests who molested children.
Still, the mood of the faithful in front of St. Peter's Basilica was celebratory following the news. The first vote took place late Tuesday. Two morning votes Wednesday brought similar results -- black smoke from the Sistine Chapel's chimney that meant no decision on a new pope had been reached.
Some 6,000 journalists from around the world were here for the announcement, from bloggers in Mexico to newsroom anchors from PBS and CBS. It did not compare to the last conclave in 2005, which was preceded by a funeral attended by hundreds of thousands of people for the much beloved John Paul II, who had sat on the throne of St. Peter since 1976.
A scholar of the church, Benedict did not inspire similar worldwide passion, and because he departed voluntarily the conclave lacked the emotional drama of 2005. But it was not short on surprises.
During a week of supposedly private meetings among the cardinals to discuss both church matters and the merits of various papal candidates, minutes of those meetings were secretly leaked to Italian media. Meanwhile, U.S.
cardinals, who were holding regular press briefings, were ordered to stop, effectively ending all communication between clergy and press as the conclave neared.
While weeks ago there had been talk of the possibility of a pope from the church's growth area - Latin America and Africa - the candidate list expanded in the final days to include whispers about a first-ever American pope, with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York a leading contender.