VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis dispensed with pomp and protocol on the first full day of his papacy Thursday and called for piety and reform of the Catholic Church.
Argentine-born Jorge Mario Bergoglio has broken with Church tradition on several fronts. He is the first non-European pope since the eighth century, as well as being the first from Latin America, the first to be a Jesuit, and the first to have assumed the name Francis.
On Wednesday, after his election in the Sistine Chapel conclave, he declined to take the papal limousine back to the Santa Marta residence where the cardinals had been staying.
“He preferred riding in the minibus with the others,” Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said. The pope then had a meal with his conclave peers and told them: “May God forgive you for what you have done,” Lombardi said.
German Cardinal Reinhard Marx predicted that the newly elected pontiff would bring “a different style, a different manner to spread the gospel once again, entirely fresh and new to the people.”
Francis is set to deliver his first Angelus prayers on Sunday and be inaugurated with a Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Tuesday, which many world leaders are expected to attend, including Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
The new pope – who was known to use public transport and to cook for himself as archbishop of Buenos Aires – decided not to wear an ermine fur cape, as Benedict XVI had done, when he appeared from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time on Wednesday evening.
Bergoglio’s humble demeanor was further in evidence when he asked the faithful to pray for him before giving his blessing.
On Thursday, again wearing simple clothes and using a normal passenger car, he visited Rome’s Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
“It looked as if he had always been a pope. He did not look embarrassed or scared,” the Rev. Elio Monteleone, a Franciscan friar from the Basilica, said.
The pontiff then picked up his belongings from the guesthouse, where he had stayed before the start of the conclave, and paid the bill. He now is sleeping in Santa Marta, the Vatican hotel used for the conclave, and will move into papal apartments in the coming days.
In the afternoon, he returned to the Sistine Chapel to celebrate Mass with the other 114 cardinals who sat with him in the conclave.
In his homily, he said the faithful needed to follow the path set by God, continue efforts to rebuild and strengthen the Church, and confess to Jesus Christ. “There is something in common in this: movement,” the pope said.
“Life is a path and when we stop on it, it is not good,” Francis said. He warned that the church risked becoming nothing more than a “charitable NGO” if it worked for the good of the world but neglected the aspect of confession.
The 76-year-old Francis will have to contend with a church beset by infighting, scandal and dwindling global appeal. He had not been seen as a top contender for the papacy, given his age.
The conclave was called following Benedict’s surprise resignation last month, the first by a pope in 600 years. Benedict, who was just two years older than Francis when elected in 2005, said someone with “both strength of mind and body” was necessary to lead the church.
Peers asked Bergoglio “whether he was healthy” and “obviously … got positive answers,” German Cardinal Karl Lehmann said.
Bergoglio had part of one lung removed when he was 21, the Vatican confirmed, while insisting he was in good shape. “Those who have known him for 30 or 40 years say they have always seen him in good health, so this does not seem to be a handicap,” Lombardi said.