(by Fausto Gasparroni). Vatican City, March 14 - Among the many well-wishers applauding Wednesday's election of Pope Francis I was the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) which - in the excitement of the moment - accidentally congratulated the wrong candidate. The CEI erroneously sent to journalists a press release expressing the group's "joy and gratitude" at the election of Milan's Archbishop Angelo Scola, who had previously been rumoured to be a contender in the recent papal conclave. In fact, after just two days of voting in conclave, cardinals had actually elected Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the latest pope to fill the original office of St. Peter, the historic founder of the Catholic Church. The office of Mariano Crociata, secretary general of the CEI, quickly fixed its mistake, issuing an updated statement. "I express the joy and gratitude of the episcopate and the whole of the Italian Church in the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the successor of Peter," said Crociata in his statement. He added that the moment was very "emotional" and reminded Catholics of the parting words of retired Pope Benedict XVI, that the Church remains a living being with its heart based in Christ. And the CEI enjoys a particular connection with the papacy, added Crociata. "A special bond unites our conference to the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome and our primate, and makes us feel we are privileged witnesses of the mission of the pope," said Crociata. He promised that his organization would offer unconditional reverence and obedience to Pope Francis. Francis, 76, is the first Jesuit pope, and the first non-European pontiff in more than 1,300 years. He is doctrinally conservative, like his predecessor Benedict XVI, but he is considered to be a progressive due to his strong support for helping the poor. In the new pontiff's first words uttered from the balcony of Rome's historic St Peter's Basilica, Francis said the cardinals who elected him had chosen someone "from the end of the Earth", then offered the classic prayer of Our Father for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who stepped down last month. The soft-spoken Pope Francis was elected roughly 24 hours after the first voting sessions closed Tuesday - a quick turnaround in an election where no clear front-runner had emerged heading into balloting. It took only five scrutinies, or ballots, to reach a two-thirds majority, or 77 votes, among the 115 cardinal-electors inside the Sistine Chapel during the conclave. Francis was a strong contender in 2005, coming in second when cardinals ultimately elected Benedict XVI, say some Vatican watchers. According to the diary of a cardinal-elector, Francis also encouraged his supporters not to vote for him against Benedict in 2005 The new pope is one of five children, and the son of a railway worker. His parents were Italian immigrants from the northern Italian region of Piedmont. Francis, a key figure in the Church in South America, is the 266th pope and leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. As a cardinal he has been known for personal humility, a commitment to social justice, and is known to draw significant crowds in Argentina.
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