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Why new pope's elevation is a surprise

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Change of direction 

The 266th pontiff in the Church's 2,000-year history, Francis is taking the helm at a time of great crisis, with morale among the faithful hit by a widespread child sex abuse scandal and infighting in the Vatican bureaucracy.

His unexpected election answered some fundamental questions about the direction of the Church in the coming years.

After more than a millennium of European leadership, the cardinal-electors looked to Latin America, where 42 percent of the world's Catholics live. The continent is more focused on poverty and the rise of evangelical churches than questions of materialism and sexual abuse, which dominate in the West.

They also chose a man with long pastoral experience, rather than an academic and Vatican insider like Benedict.

"It seems that this pope will be more aware of what life is all about," Italian theologian Massimo Faggioli told Reuters.

Bergoglio was born into a family of seven, his father an Italian immigrant railway worker and his mother a housewife. He became a priest at 32, nearly a decade after losing a lung due to respiratory illness and quitting his chemistry studies.

Despite his late start, he was leading the local Jesuit community within four years.  Bergoglio has a reputation as someone willing to challenge powerful interests and has had a sometimes difficult relationship with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner.

Displaying his conservative orthodoxy, he has spoken out strongly against gay marriage, denouncing it in 2010 as "an attempt to destroy God's plan," and is expected to pursue the uncompromising moral teachings of Benedict and John Paul II.

Not everyone liked the look of his profile.

"I think they missed an opportunity to renew themselves. They've picked another old guy," said Daniel Villalpando, a 32-year-old web designer in Mexico City. "Sure, he's a Latino, but they got the most European of the Latinos."

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