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Birmingham Archbishop welcomes Pope Francis

Pope Francis appears on the balcony of the St Peter's Basilica. Credit: Reuters

The Archbishop of Birmingham has tonight welcomed the election of Pope Francis as the new head of the Catholic Church.

The Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham said:

_"This is wonderful news for the Church in all parts of the world. It is an imaginative and inspiring choice that now sets the tone and direction for the Church's mission. Pope Francis' simple appeal for our prayers and his humility have already touched people. _

I look forward to the steer we shall all receive through his example and the way he approaches the Petrine ministry. I know that everybody in the Archdiocese of Birmingham will rejoice at this news and will gladly pray for our new Holy Father."

For all of tonight's Papal election coverage CLICK HERE to see the ITV National News site.

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Pope thanks faithful for 'love and prayers'

Pope Benedict XVI thanked the faithful for their "love and prayers" at his first public appearance since announcing his resignation, telling them he is stepping down for "the good of the Church".

"Continue to pray for me, for the Church and for the future Pope," he said at the start of his weekly general audience at the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI addresses the faithful at his weekly general audience.
Pope Benedict XVI addresses the faithful at his weekly general audience. Credit: Reuters TV

The Pope was interrupted several times by rapturous applause from the 8,000-strong crowd who gathered to watch.

Pope Benedict XVI said he was "well aware of the gravity of such an act" but was also "aware of not being able to carry out my [papal] ministry with the physical and spiritual force that it requires".

Echoing the remarks he made to stunned cardinals when announcing his decision to resign on Monday, the Pope said, "I took this decision in full freedom for the good of the Church after praying for a long time and examining by conscience before God".

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Miliband: Pope's resignation decision 'a brave one'

Many people will remember his historic visit to the UK in 2010 - which was a very special moment for many, especially Catholics, across the country.

His decision to stand down is a brave one and we know he will not have reached it lightly.

The choice of a successor is clearly an important one for the Catholic Church.

Our thoughts are with those who must make such a critical decision on behalf of millions around the world.

– Labour leader Ed Miliband

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