Faithful gather before dawn to watch a televised broadcast
of the inaugural mass of Pope Francis at the Plaza de Mayo
square in Buenos Aires. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
Pope Francis set the tone for a new, humbler papacy at
his inaugural Mass where he called for the Church to defend the
weak and protect the environment.
Addressing up to 200,000 people including many foreign
leaders gathered under bright sunshine in St. Peter's Square,
the Argentine pope underlined his central message since he
was elected by a secret conclave of cardinals last Wednesday
- that the Church's mission was to defend the poor and
The Mass, formally installing Francis as head of the world's
1.2 billion Roman Catholics, was much simpler and an hour
shorter than the baroque splendour of his predecessor
Benedict's inauguration in 2005.
Although he is as conservative doctrinally as Benedict
Francis's simpler style and emphasis on the poor marked a sea
change from his predecessor that has been widely welcomed by
The first Jesuit pope inherits a Church mired in scandals
over priests' sexual abuse of children and the leak of
confidential documents alleging corruption and rivalry
between cardinals inside the Church government or Curia.
He has also been accused by some critics in Argentina of not
doing enough to oppose human rights abuses under a military
government during the 1976-1983 "dirty war" when some 30,000
leftists were kidnapped and killed. The Vatican has denied
In his homily, delivered on the steps of the giant St.
Peter's Basilica, Francis, 76, said the Church's mission
"means respecting each of God's creatures and respecting the
environment in which we live.
"It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each
and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in
need, who are often the last we think about."
The message chimed with the teachings of the 13th century St.
Francis of Assisi, from whom the pope took his name and who
is a symbol of poverty, simplicity, charity and love of
In another sign that he wants to maintain a simple life,
Francis is still staying at the Vatican hotel where he lived
during the conclave and did not move into a suite reserved
for him, a spokesman said. It is not clear when he will move
into the Apostlic Palace.
In his homily, Francis said that whenever human beings failed
to care for the environment and each other, "The way is
opened to destruction and hearts are hardened. Tragically in
every period of history there are 'Herods' who plot death,
wreak havoc and mar the countenance of men and women."
Before the Mass, the pope toured St. Peter's Square in an
open white jeep, abandoning the bullet-proof popemobile often
used by Benedict.
He stopped frequently to greet those in the huge, flag-waving
crowd, kissing babies and getting out to bless a disabled
"He is a simple, humble person, he is not like the
untouchable popes, he seems like someone normal people can
reach out to," said Argentine electrician Cirigliano Valetin,
51, who works in southern Italy.
Argentinian Cardinal Leonardo Sandri told Reuters: "For me
this is a call to humility and service to others that will
mark his papacy... This is a new breeze of fresh air that is
blowing through the Church and the name of that breeze is
Six sovereigns, US Vice President Joe Biden, Argentine
President Cristina Fernandez, other leaders as well as heads
of many other faiths were among the 130 delegations. They
included Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Russian Orthodox and
Francis called for world leaders to be "protectors of one
another and of the environment ... Let us not forget that
hatred, envy and pride defile our lives. Being protectors,
then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our
For the Mass he wore plain white vestments, trimmed with gold
and brown, and black lace-up shoes, in contrast to the
stylish red loafers that Benedict wore.
"We have gone from the rigid theology professor to a teacher
of Christian simplicity," said Italian church historian
Alberto Melloni, referring to the contrast between the warm,
common touch of Francis and Benedict's stiff, intellectual
The ceremony was shortened to two hours after a three-hour
service in 2005 when Benedict began his papacy. The Vatican
said Francis later telephoned Benedict to wish him well for
Tuesday's feast of St. Joseph, the saint day of the former
Before the Mass, Francis collected his newly minted gold ring
and pallium, a liturgical woollen band worn around the neck,
that had been placed overnight on the tomb of St. Peter under
the basilica's altar.
Hundreds of priests, sheltering from the sun under umbrellas
in the Vatican's white and yellow colours, distributed
communion to the crowd while Francis watched from a raised
throne behind the altar.
Francis greeted foreign delegations inside the basilica after
the Mass. They included Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who
has been under a European Union travel ban since 2002 because
of allegations of vote rigging and human rights abuses. He
was able to travel to the Vatican because it is a separate
territory, outside the EU.
The pope also met Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew from
Istanbul, the first time the spiritual head of Orthodox
Christians has attended a Roman pope's inaugural Mass since
the Great Schism between western and eastern Christianity in
Before the Mass, Latin America's first pope made a surprise
phone call to thousands of his compatriots listening at
loudspeakers in the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires
where they had gathered hours before dawn to watch the
celebrations on large television screens.
In his message, the former Buenos Aires Cardinal Jorge
Bergoglio thanked the crowd for their prayers "which I need a
"I want to ask you a favour, that we walk together, that we
look after each other... Don't forget this bishop who, though
far away, cares so much for you," he said.
In the United States, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found 85 percent
of those who said they were aware of the new pope had a
favourable view of him, including 94 percent of Catholics.
Two-thirds of US adults, including 9 out of 10 Catholics,
expect him to be a good leader of the Catholic Church.
About 50 percent, however, said they would have liked to see
someone younger elected.