Pope Francis wades into crowds, shocks bystanders in Rome

By Frances D'emilio

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, March 17 2013 1:07 p.m. MDT

Pope Francis greets faithful at the Vatican, Sunday, March 17, 2013. 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.

Antonello Nusca, Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Walking up to crowds, shaking hands with surprised bystanders in the street, mixing his formal speeches with off-the-cuff remarks, Pope Francis stamped his own style on the papacy Sunday.

His humor and down-to-earth manner captivated many of 150,000 people who filled St. Peter's Square in Rome to overflowing, and he embraced the crowd in a way that had to give his security staff palpitations.

"Brothers and sisters, 'Buon giorno,'" Francis said in Italian in his first welcome from the window of the papal residence, setting an informal tone that has become the defining spirit of his young papacy.

Earlier Sunday, he made an impromptu appearance before the public from a side gate of the Vatican that startled passers-by and prompted cheers as he shook hands and kissed babies. He then went back inside to deliver a six minute homily — brief by church standards — at the Vatican's tiny parish church, St. Anna.

Francis started speaking at the window even before the stroke of noon — the appointed time for the weekly papal address — when the window of the papal study in the Apostolic Palace is usually flung open. The shutters were opened for the first time since Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, gave his last Sunday blessing on Feb. 24. Four days later, Benedict went into retirement, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years.

Francis, the first pope from Latin America, was elected Wednesday and has been staying in a hotel on the Vatican's premises until the papal apartment is ready.

"The pope is down-to-earth. He is a people person and it is amazing," said Emanuel Anatsui from Britain. "He is going to do wonderfully for the church."

After Mass, Francis again put his security detail to the test as he waded into an intersection just outside St. Anna's Gate. Francis stepped up to the crowd, grasping outstretched hands. The atmosphere was so casual that several people even gripped Francis on the shoulder.

"Francesco! Francesco!" children shouted his name in Italian. 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.

At one point he glanced at his watch and turned to an aide — as if to ask "How much time do I have?"

The pope then ducked back inside the Vatican's boundaries to dash upstairs for the address to St. Peter's Square.

Only occasionally looking at the text clutched in his hand, Francis told the crowd that he wanted to talk about mercy, saying he was inspired by a book about forgiveness that he was reading. Citing the author, an elderly German cardinal, and praising him as a "top-notch" theologian, Francis quipped: "Don't think I'm making publicity for my cardinals' books!" drawing a roar of laughter from the crowd.

Francis said mercy can "change the world" and make it "less cold and more just."

He spoke only in Italian — ending with "buon pranzo" (Have a good lunch) — a wish that triggered nods of approval from the crowd in Rome, where a leisurely Sunday family lunch is a cherished tradition.

But Francis did tweet in English and other languages, saying: "Dear friends, I thank you from my heart and I ask you to continue to pray for me.'"

Past pontiffs have used the Sunday window greetings to offer brief reflections and wishes in several languages.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Francis would likely stick with Italian, a language he's comfortable with for spontaneous remarks. Lombardi left open the possibility the 76-year-old pope would use other languages in future public appearances.

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