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VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis (pictured) yesterday underscored his man-of-the-people approach with his first Angelus prayer as pontiff, taking a folksy tone in front of 150,000 enthusiastic pilgrims in St Peter’s Square.
“Brothers and sisters, hello,” said the Argentine Pope, using the same formula as when he greeted the faithful for the first time after his surprise election on Wednesday. “Thank you for your welcome, and for your prayers,” the first pope from Latin America said from a window of the papal apartment high above the square. “Pray for me,” he urged.
Many pilgrims in the square waved the flag of Argentina as the former cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio recited the traditional Sunday Angelus prayer. Flags from other Latin American nations including Colombia, Peru, Paraguay and Mexico could also be seen in the crowd.
One banner read: “Francis, You Are the Springtime of the Church”, reflecting a groundswell of hope that the choice of a humble outsider has inspired many Catholics weary of Vatican scandal and dysfunction. “With words and gestures he has already succeeded in winning the faithful’s hearts,” said 52-year-old Francesco Baldan, from Venice.
Gabriel Solis, 33, an Argentinian, said he felt “indescribable emotion”. “He will bring much peace because he seems more humble, more spontaneous,” he said. “He seems closer to the people. We didn’t feel that with the pope we had before.”
The Angelus has traditionally been a moment to comment on international issues, but Francis instead used the occasion to emphasise his Italian roots.
The former Buenos Aires archbishop, whose parents emigrated from Italy to Argentina, said he chose to name himself after St Francis of Assisi “to reinforce my spiritual tie with this land”.
Earlier, the Pope grabbed an opportunity to shake hands with well-wishers, plunging into crowds pushing against barricades outside a Vatican gate as security men and Swiss Guards stood nervously by.
Chanting “Viva Il Papa” and calling his name, the well-wishers jostled to greet the new pontiff, who has projected a common touch by breaking with many formal traditions since he began leading the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
The 76-year-old Pope’s informal style is in marked contrast to that of his more austere 85-year-old predecessor Benedict XVI, who stunned the world last month by resigning citing his advanced age. A million people may attend Francis’s inauguration mass tomorrow, including world leaders who are set to begin flying into Rome soon.
Among them is Argentine President Cristina Kirchner who had tense relations with Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires. The two will hold a face-to-face meeting today, the Vatican said. US Vice President Joe Biden was also due to arrive soon.
A Zimbabwean official said President Robert Mugabe — who is under EU travel sanctions — planned to attend the inauguration, noting that “the Vatican is a state on its own”. Mugabe, a staunch Catholic who has been widely condemned for human rights abuses, visited the Vatican in May 2011 for the beatification of the late pope John Paul II — whose funeral in 2005 he also attended.
Francis has already spoken to Catholic leaders about the need for spiritual renewal and evangelisation and cautioned them against worldly glories. He warned cardinals that the Church would fall apart “like a sand castle” if it did not have a solid spiritual foundation and urged them to share their wisdom with young people. Francis will meet next Saturday with Benedict, the first pope to stand down since the Middle Ages.