May 18, 2013
Pope wades into crowd before first Mass
VATICAN CITY — Breaking with tradition, Pope Francis delivered off-the-cuff remarks about God’s power to forgive instead of reading from a written speech for the first Sunday window appearance of his papacy.
His comments and humour delighted a crowd of more than 150,000 in St Peter’s Square, drawing cheers and laughter.
Only occasionally looking at the text clutched in his hand, Francis told the crowd that he wanted to talk about mercy, saying he was inspired by a book about forgiveness that he was reading. Citing the author, German cardinal Walter Kasper, and praising him as a “top-notch” theologian, Francis quipped: “I liked that book a lot but don’t think I’m making publicity for my cardinals’ books!” drawing a roar of laughter from the crowd.
Since his election on Wednesday as the first non-European pope in nearly 1,300 years, Francis has signalled a sharp change of style from his more aloof predecessor, Benedict, and laid out a clear moral path for the 1.2-billion-member Church, which is beset by scandals, intrigue and strife.
“Brothers and sisters, good morning,” he said, using a familiar style that has already become his hallmark.
During his window speech, Francis also talked about of his family’s roots in the northwestern Piedmont region of Italy. He told the crowd that by naming himself as pope after St. Francis of Assisi, an Italian patron saint, he was “strengthening my spiritual time with this land, where, as you know, my family has its origins.”
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said it was likely Francis, at least for the moment, given the off-the-cuff style, was sticking with Italian, a language he’s comfortable with. Lombardi left open the possibility that other languages would be used in the appearances with the public in the future.
The studio window was opened for the first time since Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, gave his last window blessing on Sunday, February 24. Four days later, Benedict went into retirement, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. Francis was elected on March 13 and he has been staying in a hotel on the Vatican’s premises until the papal apartment in the palace is ready.
Hundreds of extra traffic police were deployed yesterday to control crowds and vehicles, for it was also the day of Rome’s annual marathon. Bus routes were rerouted and many streets were closed off in an attempt to channel the curious and faithful up the main boulevard from the Tiber River to St Peter’s square. Giant video screens were set up so the huge crowd could get a close-up look at Francis, and dozens of medical teams were on hand for any emergencies.
In just five days, Francis’ straightforward, spontaneous style has become immediate hallmark of his papacy.
Earlier yesterday, he made an impromptu appearance before the public from a side gate of the Vatican, startling passers-by and prompting cheers, before delivering a six minute homily — brief by Church standards — at the Vatican’s tiny parish church.
He arrived at St Anna’s in a black car, again shunning the papal limousine, and immediately went over to hundreds of people who had gathered at the gate to get a glimpse of him. He greeted people and kissed children, and several times, as more people reached out, smiled and pointed to the plastic watch on his wrist to signal that he had to go inside to say Mass.
After the service, still wearing his purple liturgical vestments, he stood outside the church like a simple parish priest and greeted each person as they came out, asking many of them: “Pray for me.”
Francis then put his security detail to the test as he waded into the street just outside St. Anna’s Gate. As the traffic light at the intersection turned green, Francis stepped up to the crowd, grasping outstretched hands. The atmosphere was so casual that several people even gripped Francis on the shoulder.
A few minutes later as the traffic light turned red, Francis ducked back inside the Vatican’s boundaries to dash upstairs for the window appearance from the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace.
The crowd was cheering wildly when the white curtain at the window of his apartment was parted, and Francis appeared, but fell into rapt silence when he began to speak. Some people’s eyes welled up. Many people waving the blue-and-white flags of Argentina, the homeland of the world’s first Latin American pope. Some people helped their children aloft or on their shoulders to get a better look.
Angela Carreon, a 41-year-old Rome resident originally from the Philippines, estimated the crowd was twice as big as for Benedict’s last appearance on February 28. “I think he looks like John Paul II. I hope he is like him,” she said. “He has a heart.”
“A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just,” Pope Francis told the cheering crowd from the window of the papal apartments overlooking the square.
He wove his address from the window as well as his earlier homily around the Gospel story of the crowd that wanted to stone a woman who had committed adultery but was saved by Jesus.
Jesus told them “let he among you who is without sin, cast the first stone” and then told the woman “go and sin no more.”
“I think even we are sometimes like these people, who on the one hand want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, sometimes we like to stone others and condemn others. The message of Jesus is this: mercy,” he said.
In both his address and homily, the pope said people should be open to God’s mercy, even those who have committed grave sins. “The Lord never tires of forgiving, never! It is we who tire of asking for forgiveness,” he said at the Mass.
The pope’s last words before he left the window were: “Have a nice Sunday and have a nice lunch.”
Herald with AP, Reuters