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Francis brings new style to papacy

Newly elected Pope Francis waved Thursday from the steps of the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica in Rome.ALESANDRO BIANCHI/REUTERS

VATICAN CITY — He stopped to pay his hotel bill a day after becoming pope. He wore simple black shoes and an ordinary wristwatch with a thick black band to his first Mass as pontiff. He rode in a minivan to dinner with the cardinals who elected him, affectionately telling them, “May God forgive you for what you’ve done.”

In an ancient institution where style often translates into substance, Francis, in his first 24 hours as pope, has dramatically shifted the tone of the papacy.

Whereas Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, was a theologian who favored red loafers, ermine-lined cloaks, and erudite homilies, reviving papal fashions from centuries past, Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, appeared Thursday to send a message of radical humility.


“This choice indicates above all a style for the church: Simplicity, poverty, rigor,” said the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, the editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, a Jesuit journal close to the Vatican Secretariat of State.

In his first Mass as pope, Francis reinforced his pastoral priorities and service during a brief homily in the Sistine Chapel on Thursday.

In his first Mass as pope, Francis urged Catholics to build the faith on strong foundations.OSSERVATORE ROMANO VIA EPA

The homily, which was delivered off the cuff and in conversational Italian rather than Latin, spoke of the need for all Catholics to build faith the way the apostle Peter built the church on the foundations of the Gospels.

Francis said Catholics must walk together in the faith. Without such collective spirit, he said, the underpinnings grow weak.

“When you don’t build on stone, what happens becomes like what happens to children on the beach when they build sand castles. Everything falls down,” he said.

Francis also showed a sterner side in the brief homily, citing the words of French writer Leon Bloy, an agnostic who experienced a strong religious conversion before his death in 1917: ‘‘He who doesn’t pray to the Lord prays to the devil.’’


As a cardinal, Bergoglio spoke out resolutely in support of central Catholic tenets, echoing the words of Pope John Paul II to call abortion and contraception part of a ‘‘culture of death,’’ and showing no public tolerance for homosexuality.

In fights against plans in Argentina to legalize same-sex marriages, he described such unions as ‘‘a scheme to destroy God’s plan.’’

But fellow church conservatives may be uncomfortable with his emphasis on hands-on, missionary-style outreach, and his call to put spiritual renewal ahead of doctrinal disputes.

‘‘If we don’t proclaim Jesus, we become a pitiful nongovernmental organization, 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.’’

Francis, who chose the name of a medieval patron saint of Italy who came from a wealthy family and took a vow of poverty, is the first pope to come from the Jesuit order.

The Jesuits take a vow of poverty and have traditionally shunned careerism, instead focusing on service, education, and engaging with the world.

On his first morning as pope, Francis slipped out of the Vatican to pray privately in a shrine to the Virgin Mary in Santa Maria Maggiore, a Roman basilica. He also prayed in a side chapel where St. Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Jesuits, celebrated his first Christmas Mass.


On Thursday, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, the archbishop of Bordeaux, France, recalled how, soon after Francis greeted the faithful from the loggia at St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time as pope, he left with the cardinals to return to their residence during the conclave.

“When he left to go back with us to Santa Marta, the staff moved us aside, because usually the pope descends alone in the elevator,” Cardinal Ricard said. “And he said, ‘No no, no, no we can all get in.’ And so we all got into the elevator, with the pope.”

“And when we got to the bottom, he said, ‘No, I am coming with you,’ and he got in the bus with us, and the papal car left empty,” he added. “I think this is the style of our new pope.”

For an audience that Francis will hold with cardinals on Friday, he instructed them to wear plain black cassocks, and not red with white lace sulpices.

Vatican officials said Francis also plans to visit Benedict at the papal summer retreat outside Rome, Castel Gandolfo, where the pope emeritus is living while an apartment is readied for him at a convent in Vatican City. No time has been set.