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Pope Francis Holds First Mass as Pontiff

In this image made from video provided by CTV, Pope Francis celebrates his inaugural Mass with cardinals inside the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, March 14, 2013.
In this image made from video provided by CTV, Pope Francis celebrates his inaugural Mass with cardinals inside the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, March 14, 2013.
Pope Francis began his first full day as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics with prayers at a basilica in Rome Thursday, then was celebrating Mass in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel privately with the cardinals who elected him on Wednesday.

Also on his schedule was a meeting with his predecessor, Pope Benedict, who resigned the papacy last month. Benedict, now known as the church's pope emeritus, has been staying out of the Vatican spotlight at the papal summer retreat outside Rome.

The new pope, formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, is the first Jesuit - a priest of the Society of Jesus - to be elected to lead the global church and the first of 266 popes throughout the past 2,000 years to take the name Francis.

About 40 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics live in Latin America, with Brazil and Mexico having the largest Catholic populations.

Pope Francis, like the saint whose name he has chosen, is noted for his humility and commitment to social issues. He has been criticized in Argentina for his firm opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion, a complaint was once filed there claiming he failed to denounce atrocities committed by Argentina's military government between 1976 and 1983.

The fact that the pope is not Italian, or even European, may bode well for the church, according to the Reverend William Currie, a Jesuit priest who is a former president of a Catholic university in Tokyo.

"I think the fact that he is an outsider to the Vatican, an outsider to the Curia [the church administration in Rome], there are advantages and disadvantages, but frequently an outsider can make changes where maybe someone who has been inside the system too long could not."

Joe Torres, bureau chief of the website Catholic Asia News, says Asians hope Pope Francis will be aware of issues that are important to them.

"Most Asians hope that their voice will be heard in the running of the church. There are many issues in Asia, like poverty in the midst of economic development in some parts of the world. That’s why stronger voice of the church about equality, about human rights, about the injustices that are still going on in some parts of Asia, are most awaited from the new pope."

Torres is based in the Philippines, where about 80 percent of the population is Roman Catholic. Torres says Asians are eager to learn about the new pope because, until now, he has been "virtually unknown" in their part of the world.

VOA's Celia Mendoza, in Vatican City, says Pope Francis is also noteworthy for being "very engaged with digital media."

"He’s a theologist, he’s a very smart man, but he also embraces technology... And he actually writes for different media that are ... on the Internet," she said.

At the same time, she notes that the new pope is seen as a theological traditionalist.

"You have to remember that he is a little bit of an 'old school' guy in terms of his doctrine," Mendoza said. "And that's why eight years ago he was a contender [to become pope] along with Benedict XVI."

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