Francis charms crowd on first Sunday as pope
The New York Times | March 18,2013
People holding images of Pope Francis attend Mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sunday. Argentine’s former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen as leader of the Catholic Church.
VATICAN CITY — In his first Sunday appearance from the papal apartment overlooking St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis charmed a huge crowd by infusing the message of the Gospel with personal recollections and a smattering of humor.
He greeted the estimated 200,000 people who had crowded into the square for his first Angelus, a traditional prayer to the Virgin Mary, with a hearty “Buon giorno,” which was cheered. And he took leave of them with “Buon pranzo” — “Have a good lunch” — which was cheered even more.
His reflection was on mercy and God’s power to forgive. And he told the story of a woman he had met in Buenos Aires two decades ago who believed this to be true.
“She told me: ‘If the Lord hadn’t forgiven all, then the world wouldn’t be here,’” the pope recounted.
“Let us not forget this word: God never tires of forgiving us,” he said.
Ernest Martinez, a Jesuit priest and, coincidentally, a retired professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, said the pope has “a great touch.”
“This is how someone talks to people to make them understand,” Martinez said. Though Francis spoke for just a few minutes, “he didn’t need more,” Martinez said. “That’s his style.”
Francis’ homespun, familiar style has already marked the nascent papacy with a down-to-earth imprint. In these early days, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has eschewed the trappings of the position, and tested his bodyguards with impromptu forays from the strict Vatican protocol. On Sunday, after celebrating a Mass for a few hundred Vatican City residents at their parish church, the pope strolled outside the gated walls to greet and shake hands with surprised onlookers.
“This is a pope of the ‘pueblo,’ of all people, both young and old — we liked him right away,” said Simona Chiaretti, a nurse from Rome. “He has already shown us that he is with us.”
Standing nearby, Eric Trochet, a priest from Brittany, said the pope’s way of expressing himself was “a kind of simplicity that is very wise and necessary because people today don’t understand the symbols and traditions of the church.” This pope, he said, “knows that.”
At the same time, the pope’s words during his first public addresses signaled a shift in tone toward social justice and what is seen as greater collegiality within the church.
“He has used the word ‘brotherhood,’ which had fallen out of use but is essential in a world that has increasingly moved toward individualism,” said Paolo Ciani of the Community of Sant’Egidio, a lay association founded in Rome. His gestures, the way he has put himself forward, give “the sense of wanting to built the church together,” Ciani said.
Francis was elected pope on Wednesday, less than two weeks after Benedict XVI resigned, the first pope to do so in 600 years.
The Sunday greeting to the crowds was delivered in Italian, and the pope said he had chosen the name of St. Francis, the patron saint of Italy, “to reinforce my spiritual ties to this land, where — as you know — I have my family roots.” His family emigrated from a small town in Piedmont to Argentina a few years before Francis was born.
Banners expressing best wishes and welcome, as well as those identifying religious movements and different countries, swayed above the thousands of people in the square.
Among them, a flag flaunted the red and gold of the local soccer team Roma. “We wanted to show the pope that Romans were also here, not just tourists,” said Anita Pini, a homemaker and soccer fan of the home team, whose captain, Francesco Totti, had been the city’s most famous Francis until now.
“I just hope that he can help the poor, because the church is very rich,” she said, emphasizing “very.” “Maybe that can change.”
Many expectations weigh on the first Latin American pope, called on to guide the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics in a moment of dwindling vocations and declining faith in some nations.
“I have great hope that he will renew the faith of many,” said Sister Maria del Rosario of the Sisters of Christian Charity, an order founded in Germany. She moved to Rome from Argentina six years ago, and was in the square waving Argentina’s white-and-light-blue flag.
“So I was close to Benedict XVI,” she said, “and now I am close to Francis.”