By Daniel Strauss - 03/13/13 09:21 PM EDT
Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was selected as the new pope on Wednesday, taking the name of Francis.
Pope Francis succeeds Pope Benedict XVI, who formally resigned on Feb. 28.
Vice President Joe Biden will lead the U.S. delegation to Francis's installation mass, the White House confirmed Wednesday afternoon.
Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors passed Obama the note during the meeting, according to a senior aide in the room. The aide said that Obama announced the news to the rest of the lawmakers in the room who cheered in response.
"On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I offer our warm wishes to His Holiness Pope Francis as he ascends to the Chair of Saint Peter and begins his papacy," Obama said later in a statement. " As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than two thousand years—that in each other we see the face of God."
Obama also noted that Francis is the first pope from South America.
"As the first pope from the Americas, his selection also speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world, and alongside millions of Hispanic Americans, those of us in the United States share the joy of this historic day," Obama continued in the statement.
"Just as I appreciated our work with Pope Benedict XVI, I look forward to working with His Holiness to advance peace, security and dignity for our fellow human beings, regardless of their faith. We join with people around the world in offering our prayers for the Holy Father as he begins the sacred work of leading the Catholic Church in our modern world."
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wished the new pope congratulations.
"I'm happy that they were able to come to a choice as quickly as they did," Boehner said according to Buzzfeed. "I think that reaching out to beyond the traditional continent of our Church is another big step in the right direction for the Church."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made a similar statement.
"Catholics across Kentucky and the entire U.S. celebrate the election of Pope Francis I, and I join Americans of all faiths to congratulate him on becoming the spiritual leader of the world’s more than one billion Catholics," McConnell said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the selection was a "sign of respect" for the growing Catholic population in Latin America.
"Pope Francis has made history as the first Jesuit priest to ascend the Chair of Saint Peter and the first Pope from the Americas; his selection is a sign of respect and admiration for the growing ranks of Catholics, indeed all people, across Latin America," Pelosi said in a statement.
Ahead of the selection, there was much speculation that an American might be chosen as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
In an interview with ABC News released earlier Wednesday, Obama dismissed the idea that a potential American pope would be closer to the White House.
"I don't know if you've checked lately, but the Conference of Catholic bishops here in the U.S. don't seem to be taking orders from me," Obama said.
Catholic bishops in the U.S. have been strong critics of the administration's birth control coverage mandate, which many critics charge infringes on religious liberty.
The American cardinals that were said to be in the running for the papacy included Timothy Dolan of New York, Sean O'Malley of Boston, and Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C.
"It seems to me that an American pope would preside just as effectively as a Polish pope or an Italian pope or a Guatemalan pope," Obama added during the ABC interview.
Benedict stepped down last month, the first pope to willingly resign in more than 600 years, citing health concerns and his age.
Benedict had visited the United States in 2008, meeting with then President George W. Bush at the White House and visiting Ground Zero in New York City. Obama met Pope Benedict at the Vatican in 2009.
Eight years ago, President Bush sent his brother Jeb - then the governor of Florida - to lead the U.S. delegation to Benedict's inauguration, sparking rumors about the younger Bush brother's presidential ambitions. A congressional delegation of 21 House members - the largest ever - also attended, headed by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).
President Bush and first lady Laura Bush led the delegation to John Paul II's funeral in 2005.
--Julian Pecquet contributed.
--This story was first published at 3:22 p.m. and last updated at 5:21 p.m.