March 16, 2013

Pope turns on charm in first meeting with press

The Associated Press

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But the most potentially sensitive talks could come with Fernandez after years of open tensions over the then-archbishop's strong opposition to initiatives that led Argentina to become Latin American country to legalize gay marriage. He also opposed - but failed to stop - Fernandez from promoting free contraception and artificial insemination.

In one of his first acts as pope, Francis phoned the Vatican ambassador in Buenos Aires and urged him to put out the word that he didn't want ordinary Argentines flocking to Rome for the Mass, urging them to use the money instead for charity.

Also Saturday, the pope confirmed all the current Vatican officials in their jobs "for the time being," the Vatican said, noting that he will take time before deciding to make changes in the church administration, which has been tarnished by leaked documents that raise questions about financial transparency and possible attempts to protect scandal-tainted clerics.

During his audience with journalists Saturday, Francis poured on the charm, thanking journalists for their work covering the election — "and you have worked, eh?" he said chuckling. He urged them to view the church not as a political entity but as a "dramatically spiritual" human institution and learn its true nature "with its virtues and its sins."

"The church exists to communicate this: truth, goodness and beauty personified. We are all called not to communicate ourselves, but this essential trio."

In a recognition that not all journalists in the room were Christian or even believers, he offered a blessing without the traditional Catholic formula or gesture, saying he would bless each one in silence "respecting your conscience, but knowing that each one of you is a child of God. May God bless you."

Afterward, Francis met with some of the senior Vatican communications officials as well as a handful of journalists, including one who offered him a mate gourd, the small cup with straw that holds the traditional Argentine herbal tea that Francis loves. Those who knew him embraced him warmly.

"Simple, simpatico and very direct," is how Iacopo Scaramuzzi, the Vatican correspondent for the Italian news agency TMNews, described his brief greeting with the pope.

Alessandro Forlani, a visually impaired journalist for Italian RAI radio, approached the pope with his seeing eye dog, Asia.

"He has a special relationship with creation in the spirit of St. Francis," Forlani said afterward. "I asked for a blessing for my wife and daughter at home. He added 'a blessing for the dog too' and bent down to bless it."

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