Pope Francis stepped up to the window of the papal apartment looking over St. Peter’s Square on Sunday and seemed slightly taken aback by the cheers from more than 150,000 people who had packed into the square to hear his first Sunday address and blessing.
Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, humbly thanked everyone for their prayers.
“I send cordial greetings to all pilgrims. Thank you for your welcome and for your prayers. I am asking you to continue to pray for me. I renew my embrace to the Roman faithful. And I extend it to all of you, that have come from various parts of Italy and the World,” he said.
The Pope also explained why he had chosen the name of Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, a symbol of peace, austerity and poverty.
“I chose the name of the patron saint of Italy, Saint Francis of Assisi to reinforce my spiritual ties to this country, where as you know, my family has its origins,” said Francis.
Cheering well-wishers in the square and started chanting “Francesco, Francesco, Francesco,” the new pope’s name in Italian, at every opportunity and it reverberated through the square and down a long boulevard leading to the Tiber River.
The new pope’s outgoing nature and sense of humour differs notably from the much more formal Benedict, who last month became the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign.
Since his election on Wednesday as the first non-European pope in nearly 1,300 years, Francis has signalled a sharp change of style from his predecessor, Benedict, and has laid out a clear moral path for the 1.2-billion-member Church, which is beset by scandals, intrigue and strife.
An estimated 150,000 pilgrims from around the world were in St Peter’s Square for the occasion.
Before facing the masses, the Pope took on the role of a simple parish priest, saying Mass in a tiny Church for the Vatican’s resident community, urging listeners not to be so quick to condemn others for their failings.
Francis said Mass for a few hundred people in Santa Anna, a church just inside the Vatican walls that is used as the parish church for workers in the city-state.
Before he entered the church, Francis stopped to greet cheering well-wishers who had lined up outside a nearby Vatican gate shouting “Francesco, Francesco, Francesco.”
He chatted and laughed with many of them before pointing to his black plastic wrist watch, saying to more than one: “It’s almost 10 o’clock. I have to go inside to say Mass. They are waiting for me”.
Inside, he said Mass wearing the purple vestments of the liturgical season of Lent, which ends in two weeks on Easter Sunday.
He delivered a simple, short homily in Italian without notes centred on the gospel story of the crowd that wanted to stone a woman who had committed adultery.
“I think even we are sometimes like these people, who on the one hand want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, sometimes we like to stone others and condemn others. The message of Jesus is this: mercy,” he said.
“I say in all humility that this is the strongest message of the Lord: mercy,” Francis said, speaking in a soft voice.
The pope, who was due to give his first Sunday address and blessing from the window of the papal apartments to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square, said people should be open to God’s mercy, even those who have committed grave sins.
At the end of the Mass, he waited outside the church and greeted people as they left the building, again, like a parish priest.
He asked many of them as they emerged: “Pray for me”.