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Pope Francis installed in huge, open-air Mass

The Catholic Church installed Pope Francis as its first Latin American and Jesuit pontiff yesterday morning. More than 150,000 faithful, joined by leaders from much of the secular and spiritual world, watched as the humble and hopeful Argentine was vested with the trappings of authority at an open-air Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

After waving and smiling from the open back of a popemobile that rolled through a grid of roads among the crowd, Francis, dressed in a white cassock and white skullcap, descended to the tomb of the apostle Peter, inside St. Peter’s Basilica.

Flanked by cardinals, the 266th pope knelt and bowed his head in prayer, then rose to offer incense. As church choirs chanted the litany of the saints, Francis emerged from the basilica, carrying a gold cross as a staff. He proceeded down a wide nave and behind a double-file line of the church’s cardinals, who were clad in golden robes and cream-colored mitres.

As the new pope stepped into the bright, sunny day, Argentines in the front row of the crowd waved their sky-blue and white flags.

Representatives from 132 nations, including many heads of state, sat opposite 250 red-capped cardinals and purple-clad bishops who had taken their seats atop the basilica stairs. Leaders of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Janist faiths sat together in a section just below the steps.

In the crowd, one banner read “Buon giorno Francis,” a nod to the new pope’s casual style and his initial greeting of “buona sera” to the faithful from the basilica’s balcony on the night of his election. Another banner read, “Go Francis and Fix the Church,” reflecting the hope that the Argentine would prove to be a reformer in substance as well as style.

Perhaps the most notable sign of the sense of pervasive optimism that is marking the beginning of Francis’s pontificate was the presence of Bartholomew I, the Istanbul-based leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. He was the first Orthodox Christian patriarch to attend a papal inauguration since the great schism between Orthodoxy and Catholicism nearly a millennium ago.

Under a crimson canopy on the basilica steps, Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran – who announced Francis to the world with a call of “habemus papam” on the balcony of St. Peter’s not even a week ago – draped the pontiff’s shoulders with the papal pallium. The woolen scarf recalls the sheep Jesus carried on his shoulders, and symbolizes the pope’s status as a good shepherd, responsible for a flock of 1.2 billion Catholics.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, then fitted Francis’s right hand with the golden Ring of the Fisherman, which contains the seal of Pope Francis and reflects the story of Christ telling the fisherman Peter that he would now be a fisher of souls. Six cardinals, representing the different orders of the College of Cardinals, then pledged their obedience to the pope.

In his homily, Francis noted the “significant coincidence” that his inauguration fell on the feast of Saint Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary, and the name-day of “venerable predecessor” Joseph Ratzinger, now known as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Benedict last month became the first pope to resign in 600 years.

As rich the ceremony was with the ritual and regalia of the church, it also showed subtle signs of the inclination toward simplicity that Francis has repeatedly demonstrated. A Greek deacon from the Eastern church, wearing a cassock printed with crosses, chanted from the Book of Matthew, but there was no Latin complement, as is traditional at special Masses. (“There’s already a lot of Latin,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, explained Monday.)

The departure from Benedict’s high church preference, palpable conservatism and shy, almost exclusive, style has been blatantly apparent and overwhelmingly well-received in the week since the cardinals elected Francis.

In his homily, Francis articulated that shift, welcoming in inclusive terms not only his brother cardinals and Catholics but “women religious and all the lay faithful.” He also welcomed “the representatives of the other churches and ecclesiastical communities, as well as the representatives of the Jewish community and the other religious communities.”

Francis returned to Joseph as the theme of his homily, describing his role as the protector of the church’s savior and matriarch.

“How does Joseph exercise his role as protector?” he asked. “Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand.”

Not insignificantly for a church that has been criticized as overly self-referential and increasingly out of touch with the world it aims to serve, Francis added that Joseph “can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions.”

He also struck a broadly ecumenical tone.

“The vocation of being a ‘protector’, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone,” Francis said, specifically noting that the gospel required respect for “the environment in which we live.”

“It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about,” he said.

A pope, Francis added, “must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important.”

Francis directly addressed the leaders of the 132 nations arrayed around him, including Vice President Biden. “Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: Let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be ‘protectors’, we also have to keep watch over ourselves!”

With President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who has been internationally sanctioned for human rights violations and political repression, seated among the dignitaries to his left, Francis said: “Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives. Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions.”

The new pope spoke with a ringing optimism, seemingly eager to usher in a new era of hope amid financial crises, continued wars, and a rampant global secularism and commercialism that the church opposes. It has also been a challenging period for the papacy, which has been beset by scandal in the Vatican; continued fallout from sex abuse by priests and cover-ups by bishops; and the mismanaged decline of the church’s ranks in its former strongholds.

“Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others,” Francis said, calling for a “shaft of light” to break through the heavy clouds. “To protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: This is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly.”

His homily completed, the pope celebrated Mass, speaking softly in Argentine-accented Latin. Cardinal Antonios Naguib, the Coptic Catholic patriarch emeritus of Alexandria, Egypt, read a prayer at the altar, and priests holding white and yellow parasols administered communion to the gathered crowds, many of whom pressed up against the wooden barricades to receive it.

Francis sat, his head often bowed, occasionally looking up and over the top of his wire-framed glasses. As choirs sang, he rose, meditated at a statue of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus and waved to the crowd. To the pealing of church bells, he returned to the basilica and began greeting a long line of dignitaries - presidents, vice presidents, royals, women in black lace head scarves.

“He doesn’t have the mark of a professor; he talks as a friend,” Italian Archbishop Giancarlo Maria Bregantini said. “He says big things in a simple tone.”

A feeling of jubilation lingered over the piazza outside.

“Pride,” said Felix Bialet, a 21-year-old business student from Argentina. “The head of the church is from our country.” He said he hoped that Francis would bring a new perspective to Rome that would help “modernize the church.”

“I’m curious what he is going to do,” said Dylan Hull-Nye, 21, a Catholic from Oakland, Calif., who is studying philosophy and theology at Oxford University. The pope’s humble mien and willingness to break out of the papal bubble, Hull-Nye said, left him half expecting “to run into him” somewhere inside Vatican City.

Giuseppe Russo, from Naples, expressed hope that Francis would shake up the church and address the corruption and petty infighting that in recent years have eroded its authority.”I hope he puts them to work,” Russo said, gesturing toward the Vatican. “It’s time a column of the church fell.”

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