Pope Francis Calls for Service to ‘Poorest, Weakest’: At Inaugural Mass

Pope Francis Calls for Service to ‘Poorest, Weakest’

Pope Francis at Inaugural Mass

Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press

Representatives of 132 nations and world organizations attended Pope Francis’s inauguration Mass.

By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO, RACHEL DONADIO and ALAN COWELL

Published: March 19, 2013

VATICAN CITY — At the formal start of his papacy, Pope Francis offered a passionate pledge on Tuesday to serve “the poorest, the weakest, the least important,” striking the same tones of humility as have marked the days since he was elected last week.

Pope Francis kissed a child as he arrived in St. Peter’s Square.

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On a raised and canopied throne on a purple platform looking out from St. Peter’s Basilica to the huge piazza in front of it, the pope enjoined those in temporal power to protect the world and “not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world.”

“Today, too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others,” he added.

Clearly defining his vision of his own role, he quoted from scriptural texts to say that as Bishop of Rome, he was endowed with “a certain power.”

But he went on: “Let us never forget that authentic power is service and that the pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross.”

“He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked St. Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison.”

His words, referring to St. Joseph, on whose day the inauguration fell, found an echo. “This is why we are all here, his warmth,” said Andreina Baldi, 58, a housewife from Rome, the end of Francis’ homily.

“He just said that we should all open our arms to welcome God’s people, anybody, the poor, the youngest, those in jail. And he is already doing so. He wouldn’t stop kissing a baby in his tour on the pope mobile earlier, right here, in front of me,” she said.

Francis, 76, was elected last Wednesday as the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church to replace the far more formal and reserved Benedict XVI, 85, who became the first pope in 600 years to resign, citing poor health and failing strength.

The installation Mass on Tuesday, before crowds of well-wishers, pilgrims and sightseers under bright blue skies and representing the formal start of his papacy, drew heads of state from his native Argentina to Zimbabwe.

For most of the people assembled in St. Peter’s Square, the first glimpse of Francis on Tuesday came when he arrived among the faithful gathered below the soaring facade of St. Peter’s, standing in the rear of a white open-air vehicle rather than a covered version of the traditional popemobile protected by bulletproof glass.

He wore simple white robes, halted to kiss a baby in the crowd and walked among the faithful. At one point, he gave supporters a thumbs-up sign, drawing laughter. He also stopped to kiss a disabled man in the crowd and people in the square said he seemed informal and relaxed. Many cried “Viva il Papa” — “long live the pope.”

Security officers flanked his vehicle and a strong contingent of Italian police mingled with the crowd around Francis, an Argentine who is the son of Italian immigrants.

“In just a few days, he has conquered our hearts,” said Anna Di Renzo, an artist from the northern Italian village of Portacomaro, his family’s ancestral home.

As bells pealed over the square, Francis entered St. Peter’s basilica to prepare for the two-hour installation Mass in the square outside, praying at the tomb of St. Peter flanked by prelates of the Eastern churches and then walking along the vast marble interior to appear again before the throngs waiting for the service. The cardinals of his church sat in rows, wearing robes in gold and pale yellow.

Offering a clear signal of his own ambitions for his papacy, Francis asked: “How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand,” the pope said.

“Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of good will: let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

“Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world. But to be protectors, we also have to keep watch over ourselves. 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, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down. We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness,” he said.

As the Mass began, Francis received two symbolic emblems of his office as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics — the fisherman’s ring, which recalls how St. Peter fished for food and later for souls, and the pallium, a white woolen vestment that symbolizes the role of the pope as a good shepherd. The ring was made from gold-plated silver by an Italian jeweler, Enrico Manfrini.

The Vatican said on Monday that representatives of 132 countries and international organizations were expected to attend the Mass.

One who is raising eyebrows is Robert G. Mugabe, the autocratic president of Zimbabwe. He is the subject of a travel ban by European countries because of Zimbabwe’s human rights record, but exemptions allow him to travel to Vatican City, which is encircled by Italian territory, and to United Nations gatherings.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Vatican does not issue invitations. “Those who wish to come, can,” he said. “No one is refused. No one is invited. We welcome those who want to come.”

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is Catholic, will represent the United States at the Mass. The delegation also includes Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico; Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader in the House; and John J. DeGioia, the president of Georgetown University, a Jesuit institution.

Francis is the first Jesuit pope and the first pope from Latin America.

Pope Francis met privately on Monday with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the president of his native Argentina, with whom he had clashed over social issues like Argentina’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

The two met for 15 minutes of private conversation before having lunch together, the Vatican said. It did not issue a statement, but in a news conference later in Rome, Mrs. Kirchner said she had found the pope, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, “calm, confident and at peace, tranquil.”

“I could also say that he is occupied and concerned about the immense task not only to govern Vatican City State, but to change things that he knows need to change,” she added.

She also said she had asked Francis to intervene in the dispute over the Falkland Islands, which Argentina claims as its own but whose residents just voted to remain part of Britain.

Elisabetta Povoledo reported from Vatican City; Rachel Donadio from Rome; and Alan Cowell from Paris. Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting from Rome.

emblem of the Papacy: Triple tiara and keys Fr...

emblem of the Papacy: Triple tiara and keys Français : emblème pontifical Italiano: emblema del Papato Português: Emblema papal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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2 Comments

  1. dmelloalex said,

    March 20, 2013 at 9:23 am

    Thank you Greg, for this touching article alex

    Like

  2. hapyhilda said,

    March 23, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    If only our priests could use their power,position and influence to serve the poor,if only they understood the meaning of what pope Francis said,”AUTHENTIC POWER IS SERVICE.”

    Like


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