Pope Francis reaches out to all of humanity in inaugural Mass


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VATICAN CITY -- As Brother Sun beamed on St. Peter's Square, the pope with the name of the saint who composed the Canticle of the Sun called for the protection of all creation, and said the church must be the servant of the poor and the weak.

"Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the pope, too -- when exercising power -- must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the cross," Pope Francis told a crowd of 200,000 that ranged from kings to beggars during Tuesday's inaugural Mass.

His soft voice grew strong and emphatic as he said the pope "must open his arms to protect all of God's people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison!"

Pope Francis gives inaugural Mass

Pope Francis made his way around St. Peter's Square in the Popemobile greeting the tens of thousands of people who came to see him. (Video by Ann Rodgers; edited by Melissa Tkach; 3/19/2013)

It drew the strongest applause of the homily.

He repeatedly spoke of an obligation on all humanity to protect the environment, although his references to nature could also be interpreted as church teaching on the "natural law" of both human rights and heterosexual marriage.

Surrounded by dignitaries from more than 130 nations, including Vice President Joe Biden, he said, "Please, I would like to ask all of those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life -- and all men and women of good will -- let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world."

He spoke beneath a brilliant blue sky after days of cold rain. Only after the Mass had ended did clouds swiftly return to the skies. People remarked on it, noting that Wednesday night a steady, cold rain had ceased soon after his election was announced from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.

Flags flew from every inhabited continent: Australia, Angola, Indonesia, Sweden, the United States, the People's Republic of China, and countless blue-and-white banners from his native Argentina. The former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is the first pope from the Western Hemisphere, and the first to take the name of Christianity's most beloved saint, Francis of Assisi.

One of many makeshift banners said in Italian, "Francis, Go repair my house."

Those are the words that Jesus is said to have spoken to St. Francis from the cross in a dilapidated chapel, which the medieval saint began to rebuild. Only in time he realized that it was a call to revive the universal church, which had fallen into malaise and corruption.

As his white Jeep circled St. Peter's Square before Tuesday's Mass, he told the driver to stop. With the crowd cheering, he climbed down and blessed a severely handicapped man whose whole body seemed rigid and contorted. After getting back on the Jeep, he took what the Vatican Press Office speculated was the longest ride a pope had ever taken around St. Peter's Square, going to people far in the rear of the crowd.

About two hours before the Mass, Pope Francis placed a surprise phone call to the dean of his former cathedral in Buenos Aires and asked him to broadcast it to people camped overnight in the city's central square, Plaza de Mayo.

So shortly after 3:30 a.m. in Buenos Aires, Pope Francis delivered a condensed version of his homily on St. Joseph, in which he said strong men should not be afraid of goodness and tenderness.

In Rome, the opening rituals took place inside the basilica as the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches, surrounded by the cardinals, accompanied Pope Francis to the tomb of St. Peter to retrieve important symbols of his office that had been placed there for him. All of the others were robed far more impressively in gold vestments. The new pope wore a simple cream-colored chasuble with a stripe down the center and around the border.

The crowd in the square burst into laughter when the Jumbotrons showed Pope Francis checking his watch as he prepared to exit the basilica for the open air Mass. At his direction, the Mass for the Inauguration of Petrine Ministry had been simplified and shortened. It lasted less than two hours, which is brisk for a papal event.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran vested him in the pallium, a small stolelike vestment made of lambs wool that symbolizes the good shepherd who carries the lost sheep home. Cardinal Angelo Sodano presented him with the ring commemorating Peter the fisherman, whom Jesus called to be a "fisher of men."

When a symbolic delegation of six cardinals knelt before him to pledge their obedience, the 76-year-old pope helped some of them back to their feet as if he was uncomfortable with such deference.

"He pulled them up from the ground and kissed them," said Tom Schluep, who was among many Pittsburgh seminarians and newly ordained priests to have a close-up seat and help distribute Communion. Pope Francis "wasn't looking for authority, but to be a servant of the church," he said.

The pope drew applause when he expressed "affection and gratitude" to Benedict XVI, emeritus pope, whose Feb. 28 abdication opened the way for his election. The new pope will visit his predecessor Saturday at the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo.

The readings and homily honored St. Joseph, who married the pregnant Mary at the command of an angel and raised Jesus. The Mass fell on his feast day. Pope Francis' message urged everyone to follow the example of St. Joseph as protecting and caring for others.

"To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope. It is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds, it is to bring the warmth of hope," he said. "It is a hope built on the rock which is God."

Seated in places of honor were representatives of other Christian traditions and non-Christian faiths. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the spiritual head of Eastern Orthodoxy, was the first in his office to attend the inauguration of a pope since 1054. Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church also attended.

Representatives of many Protestant traditions and some Christian para-church organizations were also present, as were Jewish, Muslim. Sikh, Jain and Buddhist leaders.

Mariana Szajbely, an Argentinian who lives in Rome, was among those waving the Argentinian flag. She noticed the pope repeatedly referred to himself as the "Bishop of Rome" rather than "Supreme Pontiff."

"I think he will work for the unity of all the churches," she said, noting that the title he emphasized was something that other Christian traditions could accept, and that he also built strong interfaith relationships. "In Argentina he is very close friends of Jews and Lutherans."

The new pope came from the Jesuit order, but it's Franciscans who have been highlighted at the opening of his pontificate, since he is the first pope to take the name of their founder.

"Taking the name Francis is like a baseball player taking the name Babe Ruth. It sets the bar high. But this guy can meet it," said the Rev. Terence Henry, a Franciscan friar and president of the Franciscan University of Steubenville.

"He's already showed that he can be unconventional, and that's OK. He's going to be his own person and be less formal and say what he thinks is right."

After Pope Benedict resigned, said the Rev. Fred Gruber, a Pittsburgh priest studying in Rome, many Catholics felt anxiety.

"I think his simplicity has inspired people, his friendly, casual attitude has disarmed people," he said of Pope Francis. "From the very beginning he has captured people's hearts, so that anxiety is dispelled. There is excitement and confidence about the future."

Michael Conway, a Pittsburgh seminarian who had mourned Pope Benedict's abdication, felt newly inspired. Since Pope Francis' election, "I've been fired up to be a priest. Not that I wasn't already, but I really want to get out there now," he said. "He's all about the church as a servant, serving the poor and marginalized, serving one another and serving God. I think he's going to put us to work."

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Ann Rodgers: arodgers@post-gazette.com First Published March 20, 2013 4:00 AM


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