May 25, 2013
Defend environment, society's weakest members, pope says
Pope Francis inaugurated his papacy with an address calling for the defense of the weakest in society and of the environment, saying that otherwise the way was opened to death and destruction.
Addressing an estimated 200,000 people and many foreign leaders gathered under bright sunshine in St. Peter's Square, the Argentine pope underlined his constant message since he was elected by a secret conclave of cardinals last Wednesday - that the Church's mission was to defend the poor and disadvantaged.
In line with this message, the Mass on the steps of the giant St. Peter's Basilica was simpler than the baroque splendor of his predecessor Benedict's inauguration in 2005.
The Church's mission "means respecting each of God's creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about", he said in the homily.
Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, took his name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, a symbol of poverty, simplicity, charity and love of nature.
He said that whenever human beings failed to care for the environment and each other, "The way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened. Tragically in every period of history there are 'Herods' who plot death, wreak havoc and mar the countenance of men and women."
The hallmark simplicity of Francis, the first Jesuit pope, has fuelled hopes for change and renewal in a Church beset by a deep global crisis.
"He is a simple, humble person, he is not like the untouchable popes, he seems like someone normal people can reach out to," said one of those in the huge crowd, Argentine electrician Cirigliano Valetin, 51, who works in southern Italy.
Francis inherits a Church mired in scandals over priests' sexual abuse of children and the leak of confidential documents alleging corruption and rivalry between cardinals inside the Church government or Curia.
He has also been accused by some critics in Argentina of not doing enough to oppose human rights abuses under a military government during the 1976-1983 "dirty war" when some 30,000 leftists were kidnapped and killed. The Vatican has strongly denied the accusations.
In his homily, the new pope called for world leaders to be "protectors of one another and of the environment... Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives. Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts."