The election of Pope Francis heralds a new era for the Catholic church and reignites the faith of millions around the world, an Auckland bishop says.

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio stepped onto the balcony above St Peter's Square in Rome to the applause of a huge crowd that had gathered to welcome the new pope this morning (local time).

The 76-year-old from Buenos Aries is the first Latin American to be pope and his election will bring "excitement and encouragement and hope", Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn said.

"There will always be turmoil, something else will happen tomorrow. [But] I think a new person at the helm brings new vision, new ideas, a new personality and new gifts," Bishop Dunn said.


"So it is a new beginning.

"Pope Benedict was very closely aligned to Pope John Paul II, he was a close ally and supporter, a confidante for Pope John Paul. And now with Pope Benedict retiring it's sort of like the end of that era and this pope is new, he's different and even his name is suggesting we're moving into a new phase in the history of the church."

Bishop Dunn said he was surprised by the election of the Argentine cardinal and he didn't have "a favourite horse in the race".

Monsignor Bernard Kiely, of Auckland's St Patrick's Cathedral, said he heard the news in a text from a friend on his way to church that read simply: "We have a pope."

"I'm just delighted that we've moved on from the uncertainty but also thrilled to see the church head in a new direction," he said.

"He sounds like a really wonderful man, a man who's had his hands-on in his life as a priest and as a bishop.

"And of course the South Americans, the Latin Americans will be thrilled, indeed, that one of theirs has been elected."

Monsignor Kiely said the new direction included the religion branching out from Europe.

"There's a good proportion of the church in the Southern Hemisphere and to have someone like Pope Francis [who will] be mindful of the particular cultural context as well as our treasured heritage as he moves forward, I think he will be aware of different issues, different needs. We believe that really the hand of God is at work ... in the choice."

Monsignor Kiely said Pope Francis had taken his name from one of the religion's "most-loved saints".

"[Saint Francis] had this profound and deep respect for humankind."

Father Michael Gielen, a New Zealand priest studying in Rome, joined the bustling crowds outside St Peter's Cathedral to watch the new pope be revealed.

He waited in the piazza for more than an hour to hear Pope Francis' first public speech, which was delivered in Italian and Latin.

"The most beautiful thing was he said 'Can you please bless me before I bless you'. That was amazing," Father Gielen said.

"Amazing. It's amazing. The reaction is one of shock because he's Argentinian."

Father Gielen said he hoped Pope Francis would bring "that South American zeal and fervour" to the role.

He said he didn't believe the Pope to be "very" conservative, as some media reports have indicated.

"For me it doesn't matter, as long as he loves us. It's always important to me [that he is] a father figure. That's the way I see it."

As he headed for dinner to celebrate the news, Father Gielen said the streets of Rome were alive with excitement.

"It's wonderful to see the faith is so alive. There's so much joy."