Pope Francis waves as he leaves Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica after a visit… (Ciro Fusco / EPA )
ROME – Hours after being named pontiff, Pope Francis visited a church in the Italian capital Thursday to pray on the morning of his first full day as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
The first pope from the Americas spent about half an hour inside St. Mary Major, a grand basilica in the heart of Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary. On Monday evening, after he was revealed as the 266th pope, Francis had told cheering crowds in St. Peter’s Square that he intended to petition Mary to “watch over all of Rome.”
Though the leader of the world’s Catholic faithful, the pope is also by tradition the bishop of the Italian capital.
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Later, Francis is expected to conduct a Mass in the Sistine Chapel for the church’s cardinals, who less than 24 hours earlier in the same building voted him in to succeed the now-retired Benedict XVI.
The election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina represented a shift for an institution steeped in tradition: a major departure geographically, yet a continuation of the conservative theology of his predecessors, the late John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
The new pope is seen as an outsider who may be able to usher in the reform and cleanup that critics say the Vatican desperately needs after years of factionalism and scandal. But some noted that his age and personality could make him a transitional figure unlikely to leave a distinct legacy.
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