Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been elected the 266th pope, making him the leader of the 1.2 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church.
"I think one way of dealing with some of the problems which the church faces is to stop the centralisation that's taking place in Rome; and has been taking place for a century and a half now. To return the authority and decision making to the bishops around the world rather than running it all from the Vatican, which they've done exceedingly badly as we know in the last few years."
- Michael Walsh, a papal historian
Francis I was elected on Wednesday on the second day of the conclave in Vatican City, after receiving the required two-thirds majority, or at least 77 votes of the 115 cardinal electors from 48 countries.
Choosing a new pope comes at a time when the church is hit by problems ranging from a worldwide scandal over sexual abuse to allegations of corruption at the Vatican bank.
Leaked revelations have detailed corruption and in-fighting at the highest levels of the Vatican. And the new pope will have to restore discipline and reform the structure of church governance.
It is an important moment for the Catholic Church, which finds itself at a crossroads - the pope will have to rebuild believers' confidence in the church.
The number of people who identify with a religion is decreasing, especially in Europe and the US.
Pressure will be on the pope to effectively make the case for the church's relevance to a new generation, and while the Church is shrinking in the West, it is booming in Asia and Africa.
Below are the five countries with the largest Roman Catholic populations, with close to 127 million, Brazil has more Catholics than any other country, they represent almost 12 percent of the world's Catholic population.
Mexico is second with over 96 million, that means 85 percent of Mexicans belong to the faith.
"The church is growing where populations are growing, in the sort of thriving in the south and in the east the church are growing very much rapidly than the population. I think this is a positive picture for the church."
- Jack Valero, the director of Catholic Voices
The Philippines also has a strong Catholic population, with close to 76 million.
Surprisingly the US, which is often seen as a mostly protestant country, is in fact the fourth largest Catholic country in the world, with over 75 million.
Italy, home of the Roman Catholic Church and 5th on the list with just over 49 million.
So, will the new head of the Catholic Church be able to overcome the challenges facing him? Can he restore the church's image?
Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, discusses with guests: Francis Lucas, an executive secretary of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines; Michael Walsh, a papal historian and author of The Conclave: A sometimes Secret and Occasionally Bloody History; and Jack Valero, the director of Catholic Voices.
|"I see the Catholic Church as entering a new spring time, but this will be done in hope within misery, glory, also amidst pain because of the problems and challenges being faced by the Catholic Church today. I say this because first of all and foremost look at the people in the Vatican, just waiting for the pope. You have about 5,000 media people watching and waiting. Why would this be if the Catholic Church is now in the back burner of history?
- Francis Lucas, a Roman Catholic priest
Source: Al Jazeera