(CNN) -- The election of a pope from Latin America shows the emerging influence of the region in the Catholic church and the world, church officials and world leaders said Wednesday.
"His selection ... speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world," U.S. President Barack Obama said.
Obama said he looked forward to working with the pope to advance peace and dignity for people, regardless of their faiths.
"The election of a pope from the 'new world' is an occasion of genuinely historic proportions," Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a statement.
Positive reactions came in from around the globe.
Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner congratulated the pontiff.
"It is our desire that you have, in assuming the driving and guiding of the church, fruitful pastoral work of such great responsibilities in pursuit of the justice, the equality, the fraternity and the peace of humanity," she added.
Mexico's Catholic bishops released a statement praising the news.
"For the churches that are pilgrims in Latin America, it is the cause of great joy," the statement said. "For the Mexican church, it is a clear sign of love for the churches that are pilgrims in these lands."
Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, president of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland, called the new pope a reconciler and healer.
"His name reminds us of the little saint of Assisi. A simple man who was the poor servant of Jesus and who was given the message 'rebuild my church.' It is a very significant message for our time," he said in a written statement.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England, said the two churches each hold "a special place for one another."
"His election is also of great significance to Christians everywhere, not least among Anglicans." the Most Rev. Justin Welby said. "May the love of Christ unite us, and intensify our service in a genuine and fruitful ecumenism that can be a blessing for the body of Christ throughout the world."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a leading Muslim civil rights group based in Washington, offered its support.
"We congratulate Pope Francis on his election by the College of Cardinals and offer the Muslim community's support and cooperation in every positive effort he will undertake for peace, justice and the betterment of humanity," Executive Director Nihad Awad said in a news release.
In Asia, Father Raymond O'Toole, the Hong Kong-based secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences said, "It is great news to see that he's a very humble man, one who is dedicated to reach out to the poor, has a very simple lifestyle himself. Those things can be very, very positive for the Holy See."
In Australia, Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart said the Vatican had chosen a pope committed to social justice and Catholic doctrine.
"As Archbishop of Melbourne and President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, I joyfully welcome the glad news of the appointment of Pope Francis," he said in a statement. "For two weeks, the Catholics of the world have been without the spiritual father of their family. We have been looking forward to this special moment when our new Holy Father, chief teacher and shepherd would be announced."
The Syrian National Council, the Syrian opposition, congratulated Pope Francis and called on him to pay special consideration to the suffering of the Syrian people.
"Our people from all faith backgrounds have hope that His Holiness, The See of Peter, The Supreme Pontiff, with his message of peace and love, will pay a special attention to Syria, the cradle of love, peace and coexistence whose people are suffering from all kinds of blatant abuses and grave dangers."
But not everyone was thrilled by the choice of this pope.
Several organizations in America worried that the Catholic church will continue what they see as policies that discriminate against homosexuals or seek to cover up sexual assaults on children.
The executive director of New Ways Ministry, a "gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics," said he hoped Pope Francis would be open to other views.
"As a cardinal in Argentina, the new pope spoke strongly against marriage equality and against the right for gay and lesbian people to adopt children," said Francis DeBernardo. "We hope that in his new office, he will have the wisdom to hear all sides of these complex issues and that he will inject pastoral messages into his statements."
And American Atheists said on its Facebook page that it found the Catholic church's decision "backward and disgusting."
"Another anti-LGBT, anti-abortion dinosaur. Despicable. Disappointed, but hardly surprised," the post said.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, in a blog post on the Media Statements section of its website, said Pope Francis had a duty to help prevent sexual assaults against children.
"We are grateful he doesn't work in the Vatican and isn't a member of the Curia. We hope that will give him the courage to shake things up and put the prevention of abuse and cover up first on his priority list," it said.
CNN's Catherine Shoichet and Per Nyberg contributed to this story. CNN's Madison Park and journalist Peter Shadbolt contributed from Hong Kong.