On his first day as shepherd of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, Pope Francis I 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 — holding the cardinals who elected him responsible for keeping the church strong.
Pope for barely 12 hours, Francis brushed off years of tradition and formality Thursday 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. For years, as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Argentine pastor took the bus to work, kissed the feet of AIDS patients and prayed with ex-prostitutes, 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 out Thursday in the Sistine Chapel as the 76-year-old Francis celebrated his first public Mass as pope.
Whereas 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.
“When we walk without the cross, and when we preach about Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are mundane. We are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but we are not disciples of the Lord.”
The new style was evident even in Francis’ wardrobe. Rather than wear the new golden pectoral cross he was offered after his election Wednesday, he kept the simple crucifix of his days as bishop. He also 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.
“It seems to me what is certain is it’s a great change of style, which for us isn’t a small thing,” Sergio Rubin, Francis’ authorized biographer, told The Associated Press.
Rubin said the new pope “believes the church has to go into the streets” and be one with the people it serves and not impose its message on a society that often doesn’t want to hear it.