Pope Francis began his first Sunday as pontiff by making an impromptu appearance to the public from a side gate of the Vatican, startling passersby and prompting cheers, then kept up his simple, spontaneous style by delivering a brief, off-the-cuff homily at the Vatican’s tiny parish church.
Dressed only in white cassock, Francis waved to the crowd in the street outside St. Anna’s Gate and before entering the church, which serves Vatican City State‘s hundreds of residents, he shook hands of the parishioners and kissed babies.
In keeping with his informal style, Francis then went over to the chief of his security detail and appeared to indicate he wanted to greet two priests in the crowd, who approached and embraced him.
The impromptu appearance came more than two hours ahead of his first appointment of his papacy with the faithful from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square
After the Mass, the pope stepped out jauntily from St. Anna’s Church and waved to a crowd of hundreds kept behind barriers across the street, and then greeted the Vatican parishioners one by one. One young man patted the pope on the back in an indication of the informality that from the first moment of his papacy has been evident.
“Francesco, Francesco,” children shouted his name in Italian from the street. As he patted one little boy on the head, he asked “Are you a good boy?” and the child nodded. “Are you sure?” the pope quipped.
In his homily, Francis spoke only five minutes, saying the core message is “that of mercy.” He said God has an unfathomable capacity to pardon, and noted that people are often harder on each other than God is towards sinners.
Some 100,000 people are expected to crowd St. Peter’s Square at noon, when the pope’s studio window is opened for the first time since Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI gave his last window blessing on Sunday, Feb. 24. Four days later, Benedict went into retirement, the first pontiff to do so in 600 years.
Francis, the first Latin American pope, was elected on March 13.