Pope Francis reaches out to disabled, poor during inaugural mass
Published Tuesday, March 19, 2013 6:07AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, March 19, 2013 10:53PM EDT
As thousands crowded Vatican City to witness the formal installation of Pope Francis, the newly elected pontiff gave the faithful a glimpse of what his papacy will be like.
He arrived at St. Peter’s Square Tuesday in an open-air jeep, with no bullet-proof glass separating him from the crowd, waving to onlookers and kissing babies who were handed to him.
As the procession neared a group of people in wheelchairs, the pope stopped the jeep and hopped off to bless and kiss a disabled man. The move warmed many hearts in the crowd, but sent the pontiff’s security team scrambling.
“That perhaps is the most striking thing: the fact that with all these dignitaries here...the jeep of the Pope stops so he can greet a severly handicapped person,” Vatican spokesperson Greg Burke said. “That sums it all up.”
Among those who attended Francis’s inaugural mass were numerous heads of state and officials from governments around the world, including Canada’s Gov. Gen. David Johnston.
“It was very touching. What a lovely man,” Johnston said after shaking hands with the Pope.
Johnston told CTV News Channel that he and his wife had a “beautiful little exchange” with Francis after the mass.
“We expressed the greetings of all of the people in Canada and our great hope for his success in his journey and he said: ‘Would you do something for me?’ We said: ‘Of course Holy Father,’ and he said: ‘Would you pray for me?’ and we said of course.”
The Pope also told Johnston he will pray for him and his wife, as well as the people of Canada.
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe was also in attendance, even though he is under a travel ban by European nations in protest of his human rights record.
Mugabe, a Catholic, was allowed to travel to the Vatican on religious grounds. The Vatican said that representatives of all nations were invited to attend Tuesday’s mass.
In his homily, Pope Francis asked people to take care of one another, especially the poor, the young and the old. He also spoke about the need to protect the environment and urged dignitaries in the crowd to take a leading role.
"Please, let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment,” he said.
The mass was simpler than inaugural papal events of the past, according to Francis’s wishes.
The first Argentine pope in history has been known for his modesty throughout his career and that is not expected to change.
“Maybe seeing a man of such simplicity offer his ministry to everybody in such a way it can touch hearts and awaken,” said Sister Gilberte Baril of the Dominican Missionary Adorers.
Pope Francis’s retired predecessor, Benedict XVI, did not attend the inauguration, but the two men are expected to meet next Saturday.
With a report from CTV’s Genevieve Beauchemin in Rome