Francis is first non-European pope in nearly 1,300 years

Story highlights

  • It was 741 when someone from outside Europe last led the Roman Catholic Church
  • That's when Pope Gregory III, born in Syria, ended his 10-year reign
  • That's just one of several unusual things about the new Pope Francis

Pope Francis is a first in many ways. He's the first Latin American pontiff; the first Jesuit; the first Francis -- and the first non-European in 1,272 years.

The last time someone from outside Europe led the Roman Catholic Church was the year 741.

That's when Pope Gregory III, born in Syria, ended his 10-year reign.

Before him, there were popes from Bethlehem (St. Evaristus, from 97 to 105), Jerusalem (Pope Theodore I, from 642 to 649) and modern-day Libya (Saint Victor I, from 189 to 199).

And, of course, the church counts Peter, disciple of Jesus from the Holy Land, as the first pope.

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Several other Syrians have also served as pontiff.

The majority of popes have been Italian.

Over the centuries, the length of reign has varied widely.

Pope Pius IX reigned the longest, more than 31 years, from 1846 to 1878.

See the longest-reigning popes

The record for shortest reign goes to Pope Urban VII, who served for 13 days in 1590.

See the shortest-reigning popes