Pope Francis pleas to protect the poor, Earth

Leader of catholic church says world needs to see hope

By Nicole Winfield

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 19 2013 11:18 p.m. MDT

He plans to call on Benedict at Castel Gandolfo, the papal retreat south of Rome, on Saturday, and the next day to celebrate Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square.

Next week, Francis presides over all the rites of Holy Week, capped by Easter Sunday Mass on March 31, when Christians mark the resurrection of Christ, an evocative start to a pontificate.

At the start of the Mass, Francis received the gold-plated fisherman's ring, which recalls how St. Peter fished for food and later for souls, and a wool stole symbolizing his role as shepherd of his flock. The ring was something of a hand-me-down, first offered to Pope Paul VI, who presided over the latter half of the Second Vatican Council, the meetings that brought the church into the modern world.

Francis also received vows of obedience from a half-dozen cardinals — a potent symbol given that Benedict is still alive and was reportedly watching the proceedings on TV.

A cardinal intoned the rite of inauguration, saying: "The Good Shepherd charged Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep; today you succeed him as the bishop of this church."

Flags from around the world, including Argentina's blue and white flag, fluttered above the crowd, which the Vatican said numbered 150,000-200,000 people. Civil protection crews closed the main streets leading to the square to traffic and set up barricades for nearly a mile along the route to try to control the masses and allow official delegations through.

Some 132 official delegations attended, including more than a half-dozen heads of state from Latin America, a sign of the significance of the election for the region.

Francis's determination that his pontificate would be focused on the poor has resonance in a poverty-stricken region that counts 40 percent of the world's Catholics.

In the VIP section was U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, Taiwanese President Ying-Jeou Ma, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, Prince Albert of Monaco and Bahrain Prince Sheik Abdullah bin Haman bin Isa Alkhalifa, among others. All told, six sovereign rulers, 31 heads of state, three princes and 11 heads of government attended, the Vatican said.

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