VATICAN CITY – Remember God’s mercy and patience, he told the assembled masses. And also: “Have a good lunch.”
Pope Francis, in his first scheduled public appearance, kept up the spontaneity and down-to-earth humor for which he has already become known within days of taking office, delighting a plaza packed with pilgrims who came Sunday to hear his first Angelus blessing.
Tens of thousands of people streamed into St. Peter’s Square hours before Francis appeared in the top-floor study window of the papal apartment overlooking the plaza. He greeted the throng just before noon, having already surprised some well-wishers on the streets below by breaking away from his security detail, shaking hands and kissing babies like a politician robed in white.
“Brothers and sisters, good day!” his voice boomed from the loudspeakers in the square.
“Good day!” the crowd roared back, laughing.
As they waved national flags and banners proclaiming their faith, the pontiff exhorted his listeners in a brief homily, some of it delivered off the cuff, to remember that without divine compassion and forgiveness, “the world would not exist.”
“God’s face is that of a merciful father who is always patient,” he said.
He cited writings by German Cardinal Walter Kasper, then elicited chuckles when he insisted that he wasn’t trying to publicize Kasper’s book.
The Angelus blessing is a Sunday tradition at the Vatican but usually does not attract such a large crowd. A similar throng filled the plaza Feb. 24 for the final Angelus given by Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, who a few days later became the first pope in six centuries to retire.
The 76-year-old pontiff is to be officially installed as the 266th pope Tuesday, another event expected to draw tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and spectators.