Pope Francis breaks with traditions on 1st day on job
VATICAN CITY — On his first day as shepherd of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, Pope Francis on Thursday picked up his luggage at a Vatican hotel, personally thanked each member of the staff and even paid his own bill. Then, at his first Mass, he delivered a short, unscripted homily — in Italian, not the Latin of his predecessor.
Pope for barely 12 hours, Francis brushed off years of tradition and formality with a remarkable break in style that sent a clear message that his papacy is poised to reject many of the trappings enjoyed by now-retired Benedict XVI.
That was hardly out of character for Francis. As Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Argentine pastor took the subway to work, eschewing the luxurious residence that would have been his due as archbishop of Buenos Aires.
But now he is pope — the first from the New World and the first Jesuit — and his style both personal and liturgical is in a global spotlight.
On his first day, he couldn't have signaled a greater contrast to Benedict, the German academic who was meek and generous in person but formal and traditional in public.
The differences played in the Sistine Chapel as Francis, 76, celebrated his first public Mass as pope.
At the same point in his papacy, Benedict read a three-page discourse in Latin. Francis had a far simpler message. Speaking off-the-cuff for 10 minutes in easy Italian, he said all Catholics must “build” the church and “walk” with the faith.
He urged priests to build their churches on solid foundations, warning: “What happens when children build sand castles on the beach? It all comes down.”
“If we don't proclaim Jesus, we become a pitiful NGO, not the bride of the Lord,” he said, referring to non-governmental agencies that often serve the needy.
Francis displayed humility immediately after his election, spurning the throne on an elevated platform that was brought out for him to receive the cardinals' pledges of obedience, said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.
“He met with us on our own level,” Dolan said.
The new style was evident even in Francis' wardrobe. He turned down the red velvet cape that Benedict wore when he was presented to the world for the first time in 2005, choosing the simple white cassock of the papacy instead.
He traveled by bus back to the cardinals' residence with the cardinals, refusing the car and security detail he was offered.
Later, at dinner, the pope prompted laughter by responding to the cardinals' toast with a joke: “May God forgive you for what you have done.”
“It seems to me what is certain is it's a great change of style, which for us isn't a small thing,” said Sergio Rubin, Francis' authorized biographer.
Francis began Thursday with an early morning trip in a simple Vatican car — not the papal sedan — to a Roman basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary, where he prayed.
Members of his flock were charmed when Francis stopped by the Vatican-owned residence where he stayed before the conclave to pick up his luggage. But that wasn't the only reason he made the detour.
“He wanted to thank the personnel,” said the Rev. Pawel Rytel-Andrianek, a guest at the residence. “He greeted them one by one, no rush, the whole staff.”
Francis then paid his bill “to set a good example,” Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said.
“People say that he never in these 20 years asked for a car,” Rytel-Andrianek said. “He just walked out to the main road, picked up a taxi and went to the conclave. So very simple for a future pope.”