Pope Francis yesterday emphasized church advancement in his first Mass with the cardinals who elected him pontiff on Wednesday. With solemnity, he delivered a homily about moving the Catholic Church forward to the cardinal electors, who were dressed in light yellow robes.
Altar servers burned incense in the Sistine Chapel, the setting for the Mass.Francis didn’t appear to use a script and kept the sermon short, calling on the cardinals to have courage.
“When we don’t walk, we are stuck. When we don’t build on the rock, what happens? It’s what happens to children when they build a sand castle and it all then falls down,” the new pontiff said.
“When we walk without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess without the cross, we are not disciples of Christ. We are mundane,” he said.
“We are all but disciples of our Lord. I would like for all of us, after these days of grace, that we find courage to walk in the presence of God … and to build the church with the blood of Christ,” the pope continued. “Only this way will the church move forward.”
Meanwhile, Pope Francis put his humility on display during his first day as pontiff yesterday. Barely 12 hours after his election, Pope Francis quietly slipped out of a Vatican car to pray for guidance at one of Rome’s great basilicas as he prepared to usher in a new age of simplicity and humility in a Church mired in scandal.
Francis went to Rome’s 5th-century Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore where he prayed before a famed icon of Mary, the mother of Jesus, which is known as the Salus Populi Romani, or Protectress of the Roman People.
“He spoke to us cordially, like a father,” said Father Ludovico Melo, a priest who prayed with the new pontiff. “We were given 10 minutes’ advance notice that the pope was coming.” The first leader of the church to come from the Americas, Francis also takes the title of bishop of Rome.
He is known for his humility and lack of pretension. From the basilica, he asked the driver to go to a Rome residence for priests so that he could pick up bags left there before he moved to a Vatican guesthouse for the conclave of cardinals that elected him, confirming that he did not expect to become pope.
On Wednesday, after his first appearance as Pope, Francis shunned riding in his official car. He drove in a bus with the cardinals and his former colleagues.
Members of his flock were similarly charmed when Francis stopped by the Vatican-owned residence where he routinely stays during visits to Rome and where he stayed before the start of the conclave to pick up his luggage, pay the bill and greet staff.
The Vatican said Francis, who has a reputation for frugality, insisted on paying the bill. “He was concerned about giving a good example of what priests and bishops should do,” a Vatican spokesman said. Father Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, who lives in the same residence in the winding backstreets of central Rome, told Reuters: “I don’t think he needs to worry about the bill. This house is part of the Church and it’s his Church now.”
“He wanted to come here because he wanted to thank the personnel, people who work in this house,” said The Rev. Pawel Rytel-Andrianek, who is staying at the residence.
“He greeted them one by one, no rush, the whole staff, one by one.”
“People say that he never in these 20 years asked for a (Vatican) car,” he said. “Even when he went for the conclave with a priest from his diocese, he just walked out to the main road, he picked up a taxi and went to the conclave. So very simple for a future pope.”
Francis displayed that same sense of simplicity and humility immediately after his election, shunning the special sedan that was to transport him to the hotel so he could ride on the bus with other cardinals, and refusing even an elevated platform from which he would greet them, according to U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan. “He met with us on our own level,” Dolan said.
“I think we’re going to see a call to Gospel simplicity,” said U.S. Cardinal Donald Wuerl. “He is by all accounts a very gentle but firm, very loving but fearless, a very pastoral and caring person ideal for the challenges today.”
During dinner, Francis, however, acknowledged the daunting nature of those challenges in a few words addressed to the cardinal electors: “‘May God forgive you for what you have done,’” Francis said, according to witnesses.
The break from Benedict XVI’s pontificate was evident even in Francis’ wardrobe choices: He kept the simple pectoral cross of his days as bishop and eschewed the red cape that Benedict wore when he was presented to the world for the first time in 2005 choosing instead the simple white cassock of the papacy.
The difference in style was a sign of Francis’ belief that the Catholic Church needs to be at one with the people it serves and not imposing its message on a society that often doesn’t want to hear it, Francis’ authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin, said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press.
“It seems to me for now what is certain is it’s a great change of style, which for us isn’t a small thing,” Rubin said, recalling how the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio would celebrate Masses with ex-prostitutes in Buenos Aires.
“He believes the church has to go to the streets,” he said, “to express this closeness of the church and this accompaniment with the people who suffer.” Francis began his first day as pope making an early morning visit in a simple Vatican car to a Roman basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary and prayed before an icon of the Madonna.
He had told a crowd of some 100,000 people packed in rain-soaked St. Peter’s Square just after his election that he intended to pray to the Madonna “that she may watch over all of Rome.”
He also told cardinals he would call on retired Pope Benedict XVI, but the Vatican said the visit wouldn’t take place for a few days. The main item on Francis’ agenda Thursday was an inaugural afternoon Mass in the Sistine Chapel, where cardinals elected him leader of the 1.2 billion-strong church in an unusually quick conclave.
Francis is expected to outline some of his priorities as pope in the homily. The Vatican said it would likely be delivered in Italian, another break from the traditional-minded Benedict whose first homily as pope was in Latin. Francis, the first Jesuit pope and first non-European since the Middle Ages, decided to call himself Francis after St. Francis of Assisi, the humble friar who dedicated his life to helping the poor.