White smoke billowing from the Sistine Chapel chimney in the Vatican in Rome has announced to the world that cardinals gathered inside have elected a new Pope to head the Catholic Church.
Crowds in St Peter’s Square cheered and bells rang out as the smoke appeared.
The name of the new Pope, the 266th, is expected to be announced shortly.
He will replace Pope Benedict XVI, who stepped down last month saying he was no longer strong enough to lead the Church.
The 115 cardinals have been in isolation since Tuesday afternoon, and held four inconclusive votes.
At least 77 of them, or two-thirds, would have had to vote for a single candidate for him to be elected Pope.
Before the conclave began, there was no clear frontrunner to replace Benedict.
Crowds with umbrellas massed in the square flying flags from around the world.
“It’s so emotional. We thought we were going home and the smoke was going to be black,” one Catholic told the BBC. “We’re so touched. It was really incredible.”
“I can’t explain how happy I am right now,” Filipino Ben Canete told the Associated Press.
The Catholic News Agency said people were running through the streets of Rome, hoping to reach St Peter’s Square in time for the appearance of the new Pope.
A troupe of Swiss Guards in silver helmets and full regalia marched to the Basilica in preparation for the announcement, as military bands played for the onlookers.
After his name is read out, the new Pope will emerge from the loggia overlooking the square to deliver his first speech.
He will have already accepted an invitation to become Pope and the cardinals will have sworn allegiance to him, after which he will have gone to pray alone