In his initial hours as Pope Francis, the Argentine known as “Father Jorge” defined his tenure in a way that seems to confirm his reputation as a humble pastor.
Traveling to his first dinner after his elevation, the new pope eschewed the traditional papal car and rode in a bus with fellow cardinals, according to accounts given by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi. On Wednesday night, he sped up the postelection rituals so the tens of thousands of people waiting in St. Peter’s Square for the new Holy Father to emerge onto the balcony didn’t have to stand too long in the cold rain.
The latest papacy informally began with 114 cardinals applauding when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio received the needed votes in the fifth round of ballots being cast in the conclave. Once the results were certified by three cardinals designated to double check ballots, Cardinal Bergoglio accepted the assignment as 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.
During the official naming ceremony that followed, Cardinal Bergoglio announced his desire to be called Francis, “in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.” The name indicates he will be close to the poor and committed to the good of the church.
This rite was accompanied by a reading of Matthew 16, which is the passage where Jesus changes the name of his disciple Simon to Peter and hands him the keys to heaven.
Cardinals traditionally pay homage to the new pope in the Sistine Chapel by promising obedience and kissing his hand. Rather than sitting, as is customary, Pope Francis stood. As others stood waiting to greet the Catholic Church’s new leader, the pope, knowing that crowds were waiting outside in the rain on St. Peter’s Square to catch their first glimpse of a new pontiff, suggested saving those formalities.
“Is it okay if I see you afterwards?” he asked, according to Cardinal Dolan. “Maybe we should go to the balcony first because I don’t want to keep the people waiting.”
He then walked out on St. Peter’s central balcony to the roars of the crowds far below. To observers standing near the base of the stairs that lead to the basilica, Pope Francis seemed to be overwhelmed by the moment. He led the congregation in two beloved prayers—the Our Father and the Hail Mary—took a moment of silence and struck a meek tone.
His comments were given in Italian. Pope Francis also speaks German, Spanish, English and French.
Later in the evening, cardinals were driven away from the basilica in a collection of small buses. Pope Francis also took the bus, ditching the personal papal car service, according to Cardinal Dolan. They all had dinner, and, in the prelude of a toast, the new pontiff joked with his brethren, saying: “May God forgive you for what you’ve done,” according the U.S. cardinal.
On a more serious note, Pope Francis acknowledged the fact that the conclave voting period had been stressful, even though the official voting period lasted just over 24 hours. Many cardinals have been in Rome since February, before Pope Benedict XVI officially retired at the end of the month. “I’m going to sleep well and something tells me you will too,” the new pope told the cardinals.
Although there was speculation Pope Francis would meet in person Thursday with his predecessor, known now as pope emeritus, the two have talked only by phone thus far.
At 8 a.m. Thursday, Pope Francis, a Jesuit, prayed at St. Mary Major altar, where St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, celebrated his first Mass. He left a bouquet of flowers at the altar. He was driven to the site in a basic car, rather than commandeering his official motorcade, Father Lombardi said.
On the way back, he went to the priest residence where he stayed in recent weeks, the Domus Internationalis, to collect his luggage and pay his bill. He did it to set a good example, said Father Lombardi.
Later on his first full day in the new job, Pope Francis was due to celebrate Mass with cardinals, reading portions of the books of Isaiah, Matthew and Peter. These passages will touch on a variety of themes, from judgment of nations, to the foundation of the church to trials of faith.
Following Mass, Francis will remove seals on papal apartments so that crews can do small retouches before the new pope moves in.