The new shepherd of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics picked up his luggage at a Vatican hotel, thanked each member of the staff and even paid his own bill.
Then, at his first Mass, he delivered a short, unscripted homily – in Italian, not the Latin of his predecessor – holding the cardinals who elected him responsible for keeping the church strong.
Pope Francis, pontiff for barely 12 hours, brushed off years of tradition and formality yesterday with a remarkable break in style that sent a clear message that his papacy is poised to reject many of the trappings enjoyed by now-retired Benedict XVI.
For years, as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Argentine pastor took the bus to work, kissed the feet of Aids patients and prayed with former prostitutes, eschewing the luxurious residence that would have been his due as archbishop of Buenos Aires.
But now he is Pope – the first from the New World and the first Jesuit – and his style both personal and liturgical is in a global spotlight.
On his first day, he could not have signalled a greater contrast to Benedict, the German academic who many found meek and generous in person, but formal and traditional in public.
The differences played out in the Sistine Chapel as Francis, 76, celebrated his first public Mass as Pope.
Whereas Benedict read a three-page discourse in Latin, Francis had a far simpler message.
Speaking off-the-cuff for 10 minutes in easy Italian, he said all Catholics must “build” the church and “walk” with the faith.
He urged priests to build their churches on solid foundations, warning: “What happens when children build sand castles on the beach? It all comes down.”
“If we don’t proclaim Jesus, we become a pitiful NGO (non-governmental organisation), not the bride of the Lord,” he said.
“When we walk without the cross, and when we preach about Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are mundane. We are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but we are not disciples of the Lord.”
The new style was evident even in Francis’ wardrobe. Rather than wear the new golden pectoral cross he was offered after his election on Wednesday, he kept the simple crucifix of his days as bishop.
He also turned down the red velvet cape that Benedict wore when he was presented to the world for the first time in 2005, choosing the simple white cassock of the papacy instead.
“It seems to me what is certain is it’s a great change of style, which for us isn’t a small thing,” Sergio Rubin, Francis’ authorised biographer, said.
'He doesn’t like to impose'
Mr Rubin said the new Pope “believes the church has to go into the streets” and be one with the people it serves and not impose its message on a society that often does not want to hear it.
For this reason, as Cardinal Bergoglio, “he built altars and tents in the squares of Buenos Aires, and held Masses with former prostitutes and homeless people in the street”.
“He did this to express the closeness of the church to those who are suffering,” Mr Rubin said.
He said he expected to see more changes – even substantive ones.
“I think the categories of progressive and conservative are insufficient. Pope Francis is someone with a great mental openness to enter into dialogue. He is very understanding of different situations. He doesn’t like to impose,” Mr Rubin said.
Francis began his first day as Pope with an early-morning trip in a simple Vatican car – not the papal saloon – to a Roman basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Like many Latin American Catholics, Francis has a particular devotion to the Virgin Mary and his visit to the St Mary Major basilica was a reflection of that. Laying flowers on the altar, he prayed before a Byzantine icon of Mary and the infant Jesus.
“He has a great devotion to this icon of Mary and every time he comes from Argentina he visits this basilica,” said the Rev Elio Montenero, who was present. “We were surprised today because he did not announce his visit.”
The new Pope, known for his work with the poor in Buenos Aires’ slums, had charmed the crowd when he emerged on the loggia and greeted them with a simple and familiar: “Brothers and sisters, good evening.”
Yesterday, members of his flock were charmed again when Francis stopped by the Vatican-owned residence where he stayed before the conclave to pick up his luggage. But that was not the only reason he made the detour.
“He wanted to thank the personnel, people who work in this house,” said the Rev Pawel Rytel-Andrianek, a guest at the residence. “He greeted them one by one, no rush, the whole staff, one by one.”
Francis then paid his bill “to set a good example”, Vatican spokesman the Rev Federico Lombardi said.
He displayed that same sense of humility immediately after his election, spurning the throne on an elevated platform that was brought out for him to receive the cardinals’ pledges of obedience, said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.
Later he travelled by bus back to the hotel along with the other cardinals, refusing the special car and security detail that he was offered.
Francis, said US cardinal Donald Wuerl, has signalled his adherence to a “gospel of simplicity”.
“He is by all accounts a very gentle but firm, very loving but fearless, a very pastoral and caring person ideal for the challenges today,” Cardinal Wuerl said.
And he has a sense of humour.
During dinner after his election on Wednesday, the cardinals toasted him, Cardinal Dolan said. “Then he toasted us and said, ’May God forgive you for what you’ve done’.”