Francis Begins First Full Day as Pope in Private Prayer

VATICAN CITY — Displaying some of his signature distaste for the trappings of high office, Pope Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, began the first full day of his papacy on Thursday with private prayers at a Roman basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary, slipping quietly into the building by a side door and leaving some 30 minutes later to return to the Vatican. He then went on to the Domus Internationalis Paulus VI, the priests’ residence where he was staying before the secret ballot among cardinals that anointed him as pope on Wednesday, picked up his baggage and insisted on paying his bill to set an example of priestly behavior in what some Vatican observers took as a token of a new humility and frugality, offsetting the affluence of the Vatican.

While his precise schedule remained uncertain, Francis, an Argentine and the first non-European prelate to win the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in 12 centuries, was expected to hold an inaugural Mass in the Sistine Chapel, where a majority of 115 cardinals voted him into office on Wednesday.

In his first public appearance on Wednesday before a huge crowd in St. Peter’s Square, Francis, 76, offered prayers for his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who last month became the first pope in centuries to retire, citing failing strength at the age of 85 after a papacy lasting almost eight years.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said on Wednesday that Francis planned to visit Benedict at the papal summer retreat outside Rome, Castel Gandolfo, where the former pope — now pope emeritus — is living while an apartment is readied for him at a convent in Vatican City. There was no official word on the timing for the brief journey. The two men were also reported to have spoken by telephone.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said on Thursday that Francis would not be visiting Benedict over the next two days, but planned to do so at some point. On Thursday, Francis, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, who is known as a warm, pastoral figure and a good communicator, prayed at the Marian shrine at the Basilica of St. Mary Major at 8 a.m. He had already foreshadowed the visit to the shrine when he spoke in fluent Italian to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, saying that, as Bishop of Rome, “I wish to go and pray to Our Lady, that she may watch over all of Rome.”

Father Ludovico Melo, a priest who prayed with him on Thursday, told Reuters. “He spoke to us cordially, like a father. We were given 10 minutes’ advance notice that the pope was coming.”

Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who was at the center of major clerical sexual abuse scandal when he was archbishop of Boston a decade ago, sat nearby during the service at the basilica in his role as its emeritus archpriest.

Francis went to the basilica accompanied by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, his vicar as Bishop of Rome. Inside, he deposited flowers in the chapel of Salus Popoli Romani and prayed for about 10 minutes, Father Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said. On Wednesday, Francis told the faithful that they were embarking with him on “a journey of fraternity, of love, of trust among us.”

 “Let us always pray for one another,” he said. “Let us pray for the whole world, that there may be a great spirit of fraternity.”

He bowed to the crowd after saying he was asking for a “favor” from the many people assembled before him. “I ask you to pray to the Lord that he will bless me: the prayer of the people asking the blessing for their bishop. Let us make, in silence, this prayer: your prayer over me,” he said.

The Vatican Web site devoted its home page on Thursday to the traditional Latin announcement of a new pope made before Francis appeared in white robes on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday — “Habemus Papam,” “We have a pope!”

He is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, the first from the Americas and the first member of the Jesuit order to lead the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. In choosing Francis, the cardinals sent a powerful message that the future of the church lies in the global south, home to the bulk of the world’s Catholics.

As he begins his papacy, Francis confronts an array of challenges, from the sexual abuse scandals that have seized the Catholic Church in recent years, to questions of financial mismanagement and governance with the Vatican bureaucracy, the Curia.

But it is not yet clear whether he will muster the strength of mind to unravel the organizational dysfunction and corruption marking the papacy of his predecessor. As a cardinal, the new pope did not spend much time on the inner workings of the Vatican. Indeed, after he finished second in the 2005 voting that ushered Benedict into office, he expressed relief at not having to face the prospect of dealing with the Curia.

The son of Italian immigrants, and raised in Buenos Aires, Francis is known for humility, his embrace of the poor and the austerity of his life. Doctrinally, like many of the cardinals appointed by Benedict and, before him, John Paul II, Francis holds traditional and conservative views, opposing liberation theology, abortion, gay marriage and the ordination of women.

Beyond the Vatican, he also faced a clamor on Thursday from other faiths, denominations, movements and governments looking for clues to his likely attitudes.

In Moscow, according to news reports, the Russian Orthodox Church said on Thursday that it “counts on relations between the Orthodox and Catholic churches developing in a positive way.” The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have been divided since the 11th century.

Al Azhar, the seat of Sunni Muslim learning in Cairo, said it was hoping for “better relations” with the Vatican after strains deepened during Benedict’s papacy.

China also said it hoped that Francis would display a “practical and flexible” approach to relations with Beijing, which has long challenged papal authority over China’s 12 million Roman Catholics and opposes the Vatican’s diplomatic relationship with Taiwan.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman on Thursday urged the Vatican to “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, including in the name of religion” and to end diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, news reports said.

Syrian rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war that has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives urged the new pope to make a special gesture toward them.

Article from The New York Times.

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