By Thursday morning, members of his flock were similarly charmed when Francis stopped by the Vatican-owned residence where he routinely stays during visits to Rome and where he stayed before the start of the conclave.
"He wanted to come here because he wanted to thank the personnel, people who work in this house," said The Rev. Pawel Rytel-Andrianek, who is staying at the residence. "He greeted them one by one, no rush, the whole staff, one by one."
He then paid the bill.
"People say that he never in these 20 years asked for a (Vatican) car," he said. "Even when he went for the conclave with a priest from his diocese, he just walked out to the main road, he picked up a taxi and went to the conclave. So very simple for a future pope."
Francis displayed that same sense of simplicity and humility immediately after his election, shunning the special sedan that was to transport him to the hotel so he could ride on the bus with other cardinals, and refusing even an elevated platform from which he would greet them, according to U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
"He met with us on our own level," Dolan said.
"I think we're going to see a call to Gospel simplicity," said U.S. Cardinal Donald Wuerl. "He is by all accounts a very gentle but firm, very loving but fearless, a very pastoral and caring person ideal for the challenges today."
During dinner, Francis, however, acknowledged the daunting nature of those challenges in a few words addressed to the cardinal electors: "'May God forgive you for what you have done,'" Francis said, according to witnesses.
The Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi acknowledged the difference in style between the two popes, attributing it to Francis' life work as the pastor of Buenos Aires whereas Benedict was long an academic. He said it was too early to make a "profound evaluation" of Francis' priorities, urging instead reflection on his first few homilies — particularly at his installation Mass on Tuesday.
The 76-year-old Bergoglio, said to have finished second when Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005, was chosen on just the fifth ballot to replace the first pontiff to resign in 600 years.
Francis urged the crowd to pray for Benedict and immediately after his election spoke by phone with the retired pope, who has been living at the papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. A visit to Benedict would be significant because Benedict's resignation has raised concerns about potential power conflicts emerging from the peculiar situation of having a reigning pope and a retired one.
Benedict's longtime aide, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, accompanied Francis to the visit Thursday morning at St. Mary Major. In addition to being Benedict's secretary, Gaenswein is also the prefect of the papal household and will be arranging the new pope's schedule.
Like many Latin American Catholics, Francis has a particular devotion to the Virgin Mary, and his visit to the basilica was a reflection of that. He prayed before a Byzantine icon of Mary and the infant Jesus, the Protectress of the Roman People.
"He had a great devotion to this icon of Mary and every time he comes from Argentina he visits this basilica," said one of the priests at the basilica, the Rev. Elio Montenero. "We were surprised today because he did not announce his visit."
He then also went into the main altar area of the basilica and prayed before relics of the manger in Bethlehem where Jesus is said to have been born — an important pilgrimage spot for Jesuits
Francis' election elated Latin America, home to 40 percent of the world's Catholics which has nevertheless long been underrepresented in the church leadership. On Wednesday, drivers honked their horns in the streets of Buenos Aires and television announcers screamed with elation at the news.
Cardinal Thomas Collins, the archbishop of Toronto, said the cardinals clearly chose Francis because he was simply "the best person to lead the church."
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