‘Ordinary’ pope wades into crowd
In this photo provided by the Vatican paper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis greets faithful from a side gate of the Vatican, Sunday, March 17, 2013. AP Photo/L'Osservatore RomanoBreaking with tradition, Pope Francis delivered off-the-cuff remarks about God’s power to forgive instead of reading from a written speech for the first Sunday window appearance of his papacy.
He also spoke only in Italian, beginning with “buon giorno” (Good day) and ending with “buon pranzo” (Have a good lunch), instead of greeting the faithful in several languages as his last few predecessors had done.
His comments and humor delighted a crowd of more than 150,000 in St. Peter’s Square, drawing cheers and laughter.
But Francis did tweet in English and other languages, saying: “Dear friends, I thank you from my heart and I ask you to continue to pray for me.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said it was likely Francis, at least for the moment, given the off-the-cuff style, was sticking with Italian, a language he’s comfortable with. Lombardi left open the possibility that other languages would be used in the appearances with the public in the future.
In just five days, Francis’ straightforward, spontaneous style has become immediate hallmark of his papacy. Earlier yesterday, he made an impromptu appearance before the public from a side gate of the Vatican, startling passers-by and prompting cheers, before delivering a six minute homily, brief by church standards, at the Vatican’s tiny parish church.
Before he entered St. Anna’s church to celebrate Mass, he heartily shook hands with parishioners and kissed babies. After Mass, Francis put his security detail to the test as he waded into the street just outside St. Anna’s Gate. As the traffic light at the intersection turned green, Francis stepped up to the crowd, grasping outstretched hands. The atmosphere was so casual that several people even gripped Francis on the shoulder.
A few minutes later as the traffic light turned red, Francis ducked back inside the Vatican’s boundaries to dash upstairs for the window appearance from the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace. The studio window was opened for the first time since Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, gave his last window blessing on Sunday, Feb. 24. Four days later, Benedict went into retirement, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years.
“Thank you for your welcome, and for your prayers,” the pope said. “Pray for me,” he added.
Dozens of flags from Francis’ native Argentina were waving in the square, along with the Vatican’s yellow and white standard. Flags from other Latin American nations including Colombia, Peru, Paraguay and Mexico, could also be seen in the crowd. A million people may attend the pope’s inauguration mass tomorrow, including world leaders who are set to begin flying into Rome.
Among them is Argentine President Cristina Kirchner who had tense relations with Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, before his elevation to pope. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is also due to arrive.
Francis, whose Italian father was a railway worker, has already spoken to Catholic leaders about the need for spiritual renewal and evangelization and cautioned them against worldly glories, as well as calling for a “poor Church” that should be closer to ordinary people.