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Francis I is inaugurated for ‘lowly, concrete and faithful service’

22 March 2013

by Simon Caldwell and staff reporters


Wave of support: Pope Francis greets the crowds in St Peter's Square at his inauguration on Tuesday

Wave of support: Pope Francis greets the crowds in St Peter's Square at his inauguration on Tuesday

POPE FRANCIS signalled his commitment to the "poorest, the weakest, the least important" during his inaugural mass at St Peter's, in Rome, on Tuesday.

The Argentinian Jesuit, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was elected Pope on Wednesday evening of last week. He took the name Francis, after St Francis of Assisi. He is the first Pope from the New World, the first non-European since Gregory III, a Syrian, in 731, and the first Jesuit to become Bishop of Rome.

He was elected on the fifth ballot, on the second day of voting, by at least two-thirds of the 115 cardinal-electors gathered inside the Sistine Chapel for the conclave. The see of Rome had been left vacant after Benedict XVI, now Pope Emeritus, relinquished his ministry on 28 February on the grounds that, at the age of 85, he was not strong enough to carry on.

The 76-year-old Pope Francis, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, has given several indications that he intends to continue his work among the poor, not least in his homily on Tuesday, St Joseph's Day.

"Today, together with the feast of St Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power.

"Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus's three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. 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."

The mass of inauguration is significant, because it is the moment when the new pope received the key symbols of his office: a book of the Gospels, his Fisherman's Ring, and his woollen pallium.

The service on Tuesday was the first papal inauguration to be attended by a Patriarch of Constantinople since before the Great Schism. The decision of Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch, to attend was hailed by Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, the director for Unity, Faith and Order - the body that assists dialogue between the Anglican Communion and other Churches - as a "sign of immense hope for the unity of Christians everywhere".

Dr Barnett-Cowan was at the mass as one of 12 Anglican "fraternal delegates" led by the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, who was representing the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Queen was represented by the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, and the British Government by Kenneth Clarke, Minister without Portfolio, and the Faith Minister Baroness Warsi.

Altogether, they were joined by six sovereigns, three crown princes, 31 heads of state, 11 heads of government, more than 250 Roman Catholic bishops, and 1200 priests and seminarians.

Before the rites began, Pope Francis took his first ride in a new white open-topped car among the crowds in St Peter's Square. He kissed three babies held up to him, and clambered down to embrace and bless a severely disabled man.

The ceremony first involved the imposition of the pallium, a band of white lambswool, with five crosses each marking the wounds of Christ. It represented the "lost, sick, or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life".

The Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, bestowed on Francis the Fisherman's Ring made of gold-plated silver and showing the Apostle Peter holding the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Finally, six cardinals made a symbolic act of obedience on behalf of all the other cardinals of the world.

In his homily, Pope Francis urged "all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill" to be "protectors of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. . .

"Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, 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."

After the mass, the Pope prayed before the statue of the Virgin Mary next to the altar, before he returned to the Basilica. There, he re-ceived the greetings of diplomatic representatives.


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