Pope Francis urged humanity to respect all God’s creatures and the environment in a homily to a crowd of some 200,000 people and a broader audience across the world as he was inaugurated as the 266th bishop of Rome.
The ceremony was held on the Feast of St. Joseph, the father of Jesus who was entrusted by God to be a “protector” of Mary and their son, Francis said from a stage overlooking dozens of heads of state and government and a crowd that filled St. Peter’s Square and streamed up the wide avenue of Via della Conciliazione where many watched the proceedings on video screens.
“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,” he told the crowd.
Francis inherits a church riven by intrigue and infighting within its bureaucracy and weakened by the fallout from sexual abuse scandals that have alienated many Catholics. With his built-in appeal to the developing world, where Catholicism is growing fastest, Francis may help rejuvenate a faith that’s in decline in Europe and barely growing in the U.S.
In his homily, Pope Francis also warned about human frailty.
“Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened,” he said.
Francis began the morning by greeting the crowd, standing in the back of a convertible as it slowly looped through St. Peter’s Square. During the ceremony he received his new papal ring, delivered a homily and received an oath of loyalty from his cardinals, considered the princes of the church. Five hundred priests then offered communion to a crowd the Vatican estimated at as much as 200,000 people.
“He has a look of incredible peace,” said Laura Vives, a doctor from La Plata, Argentina, whose vacation happened to coincide with the inauguration, permitting her to attend. “He’s humble and above all that’s what people in power need to be. He’s merciful and that’s what he is asking of people, not just Catholics, but everyone, that we be humble and merciful.”
One hundred and thirty two political and spiritual delegations attended, with 31 heads of state and 11 heads of government on hand, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said yesterday.
The U.S., whose citizens are the biggest donors to church coffers, was represented by Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic of Irish descent. Chancellor Angela Merkel was there for Germany, birthplace of Francis’s predecessor. Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, with whom the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires clashed on gay marriages, attended after yesterday seeking his backing on the Falklands Islands dispute.
He is “serene, I saw him sure of himself, at peace, calm,” Fernandez said at a press conference yesterday after a lunch with Francis, where she asked him to intervene to push for negotiations on the territorial dispute with the U.K. “I also saw someone concerned about the immense work of guiding the Vatican with a commitment to change the things that he knows must change.”
The two-hour ceremony has been modernized and simplified from when it was a coronation complete with a ruby and sapphire studded tiara. Still, the service was steeped in tradition and centuries-old rites, such as slipping a ring freshly engraved with his name and embossed with St. Peter’s seal of a fisherman casting his nets on the third finger of Francis’s right hand. The new pope has chosen a silver ring with gold plate rather than the traditional gold ring for his papacy.
The pontiff’s choice of ring is the latest manifestation of the tone of humility and simplicity that Francis has set for his papacy -- one that seeks to strip the scandal-plagued institution of pomp and splendor with an emphasis on helping those most in need.
Spokesman Lombardi, a fellow Jesuit, said last week that Francis told bishops in Argentina to urge their flock not to come to pay homage in person to the first Latin American pope.
His message, according to Lombardi, was “it’s too expensive” and “use the money you would have spent on travel to help the poor.”
After the inauguration, Pope Francis posted a message on Twitter saying “true power is service. The pope must serve all people, especially the poor, the weak, the vulnerable.”
In what is a busy week for Francis, 76, his most significant appointment may be his private lunch on March 23 with Benedict XVI, who set the papal transition in motion with his surprise resignation.
There are no historic precedents of an emeritus pope and a sitting pontiff, making the encounter a closely scrutinized affair for Vatican watchers seeking to detect how much influence the old pope may exert on the new. Benedict has vowed to withdraw from the world and live out his days in a convent inside the Vatican walls.
In the first days of his papacy, Francis has demonstrated a common touch that may help him connect with the faithful in way that his bookish predecessor failed to do.
Before giving his first Angelus prayer on March 17, he offered a mass at a small chapel on the edge of the Vatican City and then plunged into the crowd of surprised bystanders just outside the walls to shake hands with the faithful.
From day one in office Francis has broken with protocol -- taking a bus with cardinals on his first papal outing to St. Mary Major basilica -- and he’s deviated from prepared remarks to show a deft touch in his interactions with people and the media.
Francis of Assisi
He charmed a packed hall of journalists in his first formal press encounter on March 16 by gently ribbing them about their 24-hour coverage: “You’ve been working hard, eh?”
The pope then described in intimate detail how he decided to take his name after St. Francis of Assisi, who eschewed his family’s wealth to dedicate himself to the poor. As the voting in the secrete conclave to choose the new pope appeared to be going his way, his close friend Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Brazil approached him.
“He hugged me, he kissed me, he told me, ‘don’t forget about the poor,’” Francis recalled in fluent Italian. Pointing to his head, he said “that word -- the poor -- entered here.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at email@example.com