Pope Francis called on the world’s Catholics to protect children and the aged, while also calling them to serve their Church and creation during his inaugural address at the Vatican. Speaking in Italian, the new pontiff addressed about 150,000 people gathered in St Peter’s Square under an azure sky. Political leaders from 130 countries were on hand, as well as representatives from the world’s religions. Bartholomew I, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, is the first leader of his church to attend the papal inauguration Mass ever since the two main branches of Christendom split 1,000 years ago.
Pope Francis calls on world leaders to protect the poor, and the environment
In a gesture to Christians of the East, Pope Francis prayed with Eastern rite Catholic patriarchs and archbishops before the tomb of St. Peter at the start of the Mass and the Gospel was chanted in Greek rather than the traditional Latin. Eastern Christians have expressed the hope that Pope Francis can make good on the gestures made by Pope John Paul II in which he recognized that the universal Church has two “lungs” both East and West. For more than 30 years, increasing consultations between Catholics and Orthodox have brought about broad consensus on the need for evangelization and fighting the worldwide wide of secularism.
In the VIP section of St Peter’s Basilica were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, Taiwanese President Ying-Jeou Ma, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, Prince Albert of Monaco, Prince Felipe of Asturias, and Bahrain Prince Sheik Abdullah bin Haman bin Isa Alkhalifa, among others. Pope Francis directed his homily to the politicians, saying "I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment."
Before today’s Mass, the Argentina-born Pope Francis greeted onlookers from an open-air vehicle that toured the square at the Vatican. He stopped several times to bless small children, as well as a disabled man. Later he received the ceremonial ring that represents his authority as leader of the world’s 1 billion Catholics, as well as a pallium that represents his role as the lead shepherd of the flock. Before the Mass began, Pope Francis received vows of obedience from a half-dozen cardinals, one that they also gave to his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who is still very much alive. A cardinal intoned the rite of the papal inauguration, saying, "The Good Shepherd charged Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep; today you succeed him as the bishop of this church."
Pope Francis also took a turn around St. Peter's Square in an open-air vehicle to greet the faithful gathered there in his honor. Onlookers waved banners expressing support for the new leader of their church. The new pope paused several times to bless small children and, in one case, descended from his vehicle to bless a disabled man.
The Vatican has released Pope Francis' new coat of arms, which is similar to the one he used as archbishop of Buenos Aires. The new papal arms features symbols of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and foster father Joseph, as well as the papal miter and crossed keys symbolizing the new pontiff’s links to St Peter. His Latin motto is "MISERANDO ATQUE ELIGENDO" which translated into English is "Lowly and yet chosen," a reference to the Gospel of St Matthew. A wax cast of the papal ring received by Pope Francis was once offered to Pope Paul VI, who never wore it. It has since been made into the ring chosen by the new pope from other more ornate offerings.
Speaking at the Mass, Pope Francis addressed worldly leaders and urged them to emulate the example set by St Joseph, who protected Jesus and His mother from the wrath of Herod and fled with them to exile in Egypt. He also called upon Catholics and political leaders to husband the environment, and come to the aid of the weakest and poorest, setting out a clear agenda. The new pope, the first Jesuit and first non-European to occupy the Holy See in more than 1,000 years, promised that just a little tenderness can "open up a horizon of hope."
Pope Francis was interrupted by applause from the multitude variously during his sermon, calling on believers to not permit "omens of destruction," hatred, envy and pride to "defile our lives." As pontiff, Pope Francis said his role is to protect all of humanity, but "especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison."
"Today amid so much darkness we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others," he said. "To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope, it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds," he said. The pope specifically welcomed representatives of the Jewish community, among the other faiths represented.
The blue and white flags, emblazoned with the sun, from Argentina wavered above the crowd that Vatican sources estimated to number between 150,000-200,000. Crews closed the main thoroughfares leading to St Peter’s Square to traffic, setting up barricades nearly one mile long in order to facilitate the arrival of foreign dignitaries.
A son of Argentina
Pope Francis personal history of modest living and humility has resonated throughout Latin America, where some 47 of the world’s Catholics reside. A VOA story noted the hope that some express that hius papacy may revive the sagging Christian spirit among Catholics who have fallen away, "I think he'll revive the sentiments of Catholics who received the sacraments but don't go to Mass anymore, and awaken the sentiments of people who don't believe anymore in the church, for good reason," said Judith Teloni, an Argentine tourist guide who lives in Rome and attended the Mass with a friend.
"As an Argentine, he was our cardinal. It's a great joy for us," said Edoardo Fernandez Mendia, who hails from the Argentine pampas and was in the crowd. "I would have never imagined that it was going to be him." Recalling another great moment in the history of the Argentine Republic, when soccer star Diego Maradona scored an improbable goal in the 1986 World Cup, he said "And for the second time, the Hand of God came to Argentina."
Francis has already made world headlines for his simple style. He has refrained from wearing a traditional fur-lined red velvet cape that his predecessors wore and has made a simple white cassock his trademark. He even paid his own bill at the hotel where he stayed in Rome during the papal election.
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