Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pope Francis starts first day in new job

ROME -- Pope Francis could have been excused for sleeping in Thursday, a day after shocking the world with a series of pontiff firsts: a Jesuit from Latin America who chose a name honoring St. Francis of Assisi.
But the newly elected leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics instead went to bed after a quick dinner with his fellow 114 cardinal-electors in order to rise early to pray for 30 minutes at Rome's Santa Maria Maggiore church. Outside, a crowd of around 150 faithful cheered.
Afterwards, this by all accounts simple man who likes to ride Rome's subways did perhaps his last regular errand. He picked up his belongings and payed his bill at the lodging house for clerics where he had stayed before going behind Vatican walls to vote in the conclave.
The pope's most significant item on his to-do list is upcoming. He plans to visit the first pope emeritus in 600 years, Pope Benedict XVI, who has been staying at the Vatican's fabled summer retreat, Castel Gandolfo, ever since his historic resignation last month.
At 1 p.m. local time, the Vatican is scheduled to hold a press briefing about Pope Francis' schedule going forward. The biggest outstanding question is the date of his installation mass.
On Wednesday, throngs jamming St. Peter's Square roared with joy as Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, stepped onto the balcony as the new pope.
"Brothers and sisters, good evening," Bergoglio, who chose the name Pope Francis, said to wild cheers. "You know that the work of the conclave is to give a bishop to Rome. It seems as if my brother cardinals went to find him from the end of the earth. Thank you for the welcome."
The crowd grew silent as Francis, 76, recited the Lord's Prayer and a Hail Mary. He asked the crowd to pray for him before he blessed them.
Francis' papacy is one of firsts: He is the first Jesuit, the first non-European in modern times and first Latin American pope. He also is the first to take the name Francis, for the saint devoted to the poor.
Bergoglio reportedly received the second-most votes after Joseph Ratzinger — Pope Benedict XVI — in the 2005 papal election. Despite being Argentina's top church official, Bergoglio never lived in the ornate church mansion in Buenos Aires, preferring a simple bed in a downtown room heated by a small stove. For years, he took public transportation around the city and cooked his own meals.
The new pope had a lung removed due to infection when he was a teenager.
The 115 voting cardinals took five ballots over two days to reach their decision by the required two-thirds majority. That came after a week of intense meetings and on the heels of Benedict's shocking resignation last month.
The first vote took place late Tuesday. Two morning votes Wednesday brought similar results — black smoke from the Sistine Chapel's chimney that meant no decision on a new pope had been reached. Late Wednesday, the smoke was finally white and Vatican bells pealed.
As news spread of the pope's election, huge crowds rushed toward the square. Streets surrounding the square suddenly resembled the running of the bulls in Pamplona, with all but the old and babies breaking into a trot.
The cardinal deacon stepped out onto the balcony to announce "Habemus Papam!" — We have a pope!
"Our Muslim brothers go to Mecca, well if you're Catholic this is Mecca, it's almost too much to comprehend," said Mike McCormack of Bismarck, N.D., standing in St. Peter's Square. "We were told by a friend to come tonight. We are so glad we did."
David Lewellyn nodded excitedly as the rain hammered his umbrella. "The pope is a world leader, which makes this event of major significance. It's incredible."
McCormack smiled and said, "I'll give you another word. It's uplifting."
One man waved a Swiss flag overhead as the bells of Rome tolled and the crowds cheered. "I came just to see this moment," said Michael Flueckiger of Bern. "It's just incredible."
American Catholics back home were just as excited. Millie Teda, 75, had stopped in at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City after visiting a sick friend. She said she had been praying that an announcement about a pope would come while she was there.
"Oh my goodness — Oh thank you, thank you, thank you," Teda said upon hearing the news. "You know, we need some change," she said. Catholics need someone who will "go more to the poor people, to the young people because we are losing young people."
President Obama offered "warm wishes" to the new pope.
"As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than two thousand years — that in each other we see the face of God," Obama said in a statement.
Francis will have a full plate. Benedict, who did not participate in the election, cited health reasons in becoming the first pope to step down in some 600 years. In his eight years the church solidified its message on core Catholic values such as opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, and saw gains in membership in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
But his departure comes at a time when the church has lost membership in Europe and the United States, is dealing with financial mismanagement of church assets and still trying to overcome the "scourge" as Benedict described the cases of priests who molested children.
James O'Rourke, a management professor at the University of Notre Dame, a Roman Catholic school in South Bend, Ind., said Francis will need a strategic vision, team-building and financial skills and what he calls "charismatic empathy."
Many North American Catholics want a greater role for women in the church, O'Rourke said, while many Europeans oppose such a move. Catholics in Latin America want more vibrant parishes and the fast-growing Catholic population in Africa needs more priests, he said.
Fittingly, Bergoglio's new namesake, St. Francis, is famous for his vision of a talking crucifix telling him, "Francis, rebuild my church."

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