March 19, 2013

Pope Francis: Protect the poor and nature

The Associated Press

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Pope Francis walks past the alter in front of St. Peter's Basilica in St. Peter's Square following his inauguration Mass at the Vatican.

AP

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Pope Francis reaches out to touch a child as he arrives to his inauguration Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Tuesday.

AP

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Closer to home, Francis is facing serious management shortcomings in a Vatican bureaucracy in dire need of reform.

Francis hasn't indicated how he might tackle those greater problems, focusing instead on messages and gestures that signal a total shift in priority and personality from his German theologian predecessor.

On Wednesday, Francis may reveal some of his ecumenical intentions, as he holds an audience with Christian delegations who attended his installation. On Friday, he will put his foreign policy chops on display in an address to the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See.

He plans to call on Benedict at Castel Gandolfo, the papal retreat south of Rome, on Saturday, and the next day to celebrate Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square.

Next week, Francis presides over all the rites of Holy Week, capped by Easter Sunday Mass on March 31, when Christians mark the resurrection of Christ, an evocative start to a pontificate.

Tuesday was the feast of St. Joseph, and Francis made special mention in his homily of the carpenter saint's "lowly, concrete and faithful service."

He later telephoned Benedict, the former Joseph Ratzinger, to wish him a happy name day, and the Vatican said in a statement that the pope emeritus has been following the celebrations with "intense interest" and "assures his successor his continued closeness in prayer."

At the start of the Mass, Francis received the gold-plated fisherman's ring, which recalls how St. Peter fished for food and later for souls, and a wool stole symbolizing his role as shepherd of his flock. The ring was something of a hand-me-down, first offered to Pope Paul VI, who presided over the latter half of the Second Vatican Council, the meetings that brought the church into the modern world.

Francis also received vows of obedience from a half-dozen cardinals — a potent symbol given that Benedict is still alive and was reportedly watching the proceedings on TV.

A cardinal intoned the rite of inauguration, saying: "The Good Shepherd charged Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep; today you succeed him as the bishop of this church."

Flags from around the world, including Argentina's blue and white flag, fluttered above the crowd, which the Vatican said numbered 150,000-200,000 people. Civil protection crews closed the main streets leading to the square to traffic and set up barricades for nearly a mile along the route to try to control the masses and allow official delegations through.

Some 132 official delegations attended, including more than a half-dozen heads of state from Latin America, a sign of the significance of the election for the region. Francis's determination that his pontificate would be focused on the poor has resonance in a poverty-stricken region that counts 40 percent of the world's Catholics.

In the VIP section was U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, Taiwanese President Ying-Jeou Ma, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, Prince Albert of Monaco and Bahrain Prince Sheik Abdullah bin Haman bin Isa Alkhalifa, among others. All told, six sovereign rulers, 31 heads of state, three princes and 11 heads of government attended, the Vatican said.

Francis directed his homily to them, saying: "We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness."

After the Mass, Francis stood in a receiving line for nearly two hours to greet each of the government delegations in St. Peter's Basilica, chatting warmly and animatedly with each one, kissing the few youngsters who came along with their parents and occasionally blessing a rosary given to him.

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Additional Photos

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Pope Francis waves to crowds as he arrives to his inauguration Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Tuesday. Pope Francis urged world leaders and ordinary people to protect the environment, the weakest and the poorest.

AP

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Pope Francis stands at the steps of St. Peter's Basilica during his inaugural Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Tuesday.

AP

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Pope Francis waves upon his arrival in St. Peter's Square for his inaugural Mass, at the Vatican on Tuesday.

AP

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Crowds gather in St. Peter's Square for the inauguration Mass for Pope Francis at the Vatican on Tuesday.

AP

  


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