Pope surprises faithful with a walkabout

It was enough to send security into a tail spin when the new Pope opted for an impromptu walkabout outside the Church where he yesterday celebrated Sunday Mass.

Like a local parish priest, he greeted parishioners outside St Anna’s, the parish church of Vatican City, planting a few kisses on the foreheads’ of children, and allowing others to kiss him and shake hands in turn.

The Mass he had earlier celebrated included a reading from the Gospel according to St John, in which the woman caught in adultery and subject under law to death by stoning, is presented to Jesus for judgment. The Pope later told the gathering in St Peter’s Square that “we are all sinners” and that we are all at the mercy of God.

The audience of more than 100,000 lapped it up, cheering and clapping amid rousing shouts of “Papa Francis” for a Pope whose ability to please a crowd could make him a contender for the religious equivalent of Bill Clinton.

Just as Bill never needed a teleprompter, this Pope doesn’t seem to need his notes, instead speaking in a straightforward and spontaneous style that his audience clearly appreciates.

During his address from the window of the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace yesterday — the first time it was opened since Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, gave his last window blessing on Feb 24 — he spoke only Italian. But the manner of his delivery and the tone of his voice meant that even if the words were unrecognisable, the warmth in his voice carried through.

He had the same effect on more than 4,000 journalists the previous day whom he addressed in the Pope Paul V1 Audience Hall, to the left and rear of St Peter’s Square. Dressed in a white cassock and sitting in a cream leather seat, flanked on either side by members of the Swiss guard, and dwarfed by a 20m-wide brass and bronze sculpture of “The Resurrection,” Pope Francis spoke in what is fast becoming a trademark relaxed style. And he knows how to raise a laugh.

Deacon Eli Gieste, from Minnesota, who is studying at the American College in Rome, thinks the new Pope is “far more animated” than his predecessor. “Of course it’s early days, but he sounds very fresh and well able to energise. People are really excited. I haven’t seen this many people in St Peter’s Square for the Angelus in a very long time,” Eli said.

Michael McLaughlin, from Co Kildare, was delighted to be there. “I was disappointed with our performance in the rugby [Ireland v Italy], but it’s great to be here for this, I’ll never get an opportunity like this again,” he said, as the Angelus rang out.

In fact the Pope says the Angelus publicly every Sunday, provided he is in Rome, while Wednesdays are set aside for a papal audience.

Tomorrow, however, is the next big date in the papal calendar when more than 1m people, including world leaders, are expected to attend Pope Francis’s installation mass. Preparations are well under way. The number of portaloos dotted around St Peter’s Square have been bolstered significantly, and security and emergency services are at a premium.


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