IT WAS a simplified celebration that again fuelled hopes for change in the scandal-plagued Roman Catholic Church. Francis, the first Jesuit pope, has already put his mark on the papacy, abandoning much of the baroque pomp of his predecessor Benedict and signalling that he wants a Church whose first priority is the poor and disadvantaged.
For 30 minutes before his inauguration mass, he toured a crammed St Peter’s Square under bright sunshine in an open white jeep, abandoning the bullet-proof popemobile used frequently by Benedict.
Waving, shouting “Ciao!” to well-wishers, he kissed babies handed up to him.
At one point, as he neared a group of people in wheelchairs, he signalled for the vehicle to stop, got off and went to bless a disabled man held up to the barricade by an aide.
He wore plain white vestments and black shoes, in contrast to the luxurious red loafers that attracted attention under Benedict.
The ceremony conducted from an altar on the steps of the huge basilica was also shortened to two hours after a three-hour service in 2005 when Benedict began his papacy.
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.
He processed out of the church in a column of cardinals chanting a litany calling for support for the new pontiff from saints, including several previous popes.
The Mass formally installs Francis as the new leader of the world’s 1.2bn Roman Catholics.
Many in the crowd said they had high hopes of a more humble papacy under Francis, who as a Jesuit has taken a vow of poverty.
“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.
“My first impression is that the pope is very humble, and has taken the church in his heart,” said Isaac Adroamabe from Arua in Uganda, who is studying to be a priest in Rome.
“I think he is going to fulfill his promises, he will lead the Church based on the example of St Francis. You can already see he is a down-to-earth pope who mingles with the people.”
Hallelujah!! The new Pope Francis... divinely ordained. You can tell simply by the name he chose! Selah! pic.twitter.com/78ogqS0uQ6— Melting Point (@julofdenial) March 14, 2013
Six sovereigns, US vice president Joe Biden, Argentine president Cristina Fernandez, Irish president Michael D Higgins and other leaders, as well as heads of many other faiths, were among the 130 delegations on the steps of the famous basilica.
Among them was Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew from Istanbul, Turkey, 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 1054.
True power is service. The Pope must serve all people, especially the poor, the weak, the vulnerable.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) March 19, 2013
The former Buenos Aires Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio has aroused enormous enthusiasm and interest in the Catholic world due to the modest way he has assumed a post that was modelled after a Renaissance monarchy and carries titles such as ‘Vicar of Jesus Christ’ and ‘Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church’.
In the six days since his election, he has referred to himself only as Bishop of Rome, the position from which his authority flows, and hinted he plans to reduce Vatican centralism and govern in consultation with other bishops.
Today Francis will receive more than 30 delegations representing other Christian churches, as well as from the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain religions. He will address foreign ambassadors to the Vatican on Friday and have lunch with Benedict, their first meeting since the conclave, on Saturday before leading celebrations for Palm Sunday.
Dear friends, I thank you from my heart and I ask you to continue to pray for me.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) March 17, 2013
Francis had his first taste of the diplomatic challenges of the papacy when on Monday, Argentinian president Fernandez asked him for support on the Falklands. A Vatican spokesman had no comment to make.