News / Europe

Francis Delights Pilgrims with Informal 1st Sunday Address

Pope Francis greets faithful at the Vatican, March 17, 2013.
Pope Francis greets faithful at the Vatican, March 17, 2013.
Al Pessin
— Pope Francis walked among the people of Rome like a local priest and then spoke to tens of thousands from his window on the first Sunday since he was elected to lead the world's 1.2-billion Roman Catholics.  

The pontiff offered a simple “good morning” to what he called his “brothers and sisters” packed into St. Peter's Square and the surrounding streets.  He appeared on a small balcony high above the square, attached to his official apartment.  Far below was a happy crowd, many people waving banners and flags, especially the blue, white and yellow flag of his home country, Argentina.

The pope preached a short homily about forgiveness to the cheers and adoring gazes of the faithful.  He got a laugh when he said that thanks to the media, the square was “the size of the world.”

People on the square were thrilled to have the chance to see the new pope, who, four days into his papacy, has already established a reputation for having the common touch.

FEDERICA, from Italy: “It was an amazing day and an amazing man, I think.  I think that he is a man that is real near to the people.  So, I am really happy and I hope that he can change something in this world.”

DENEYS, from South Africa: “I was completely overwhelmed and completely charmed by what he had to say, as I think everybody was.  It was just fantastic.”

Earlier, Pope Francis surprised his security guards by stepping outside the Vatican to greet people on a street corner, shaking hands and kissing babies.  Then he went into a small church on the Vatican grounds to lead mass, greeting parishioners as they left, like a local priest would do.

The pope also sent out his first Twitter message, offering thanks and asking people to pray for him.  He signed it simply, “Pope Francis.”

The former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina has been riding a wave of enthusiasm since his fellow cardinals elected him in a surprise move Wednesday evening.  But he has a lot of work to do, cleaning up a scandal in the Vatican bureaucracy involving finances and charges of sexual blackmail by power-hungry factions, and scandals over sexual abuse by priests in several parts of the world.

He has not said anything about those issues directly, but Sunday's homily about mercy and forgiveness may give a clue about his thinking.  He said God's capacity for forgiveness is endless, and people should not stop asking for it.

The pope's next major event is his installation mass in front of another huge crowd Tuesday on St. Peter's Square, this time including world leaders.

He ended Sunday's audience with greetings and blessings, but unlike his recent predecessors he did not speak in any language other than Italian.  He concluded with a simple farewell.  

The pope said, “Have a good Sunday, and a good lunch.”  Then he waved and disappeared back into the building.

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