Pope Francis waves before delivering his Angelus prayer from the window… (Michael Sohn, Associated…)
VATICAN CITY -- Tens of thousands of pilgrims Sunday greeted Pope Francis on his first scheduled appearance before the general public, shouting their acclaim in St. Peter’s Square as the pope gave the first Angelus blessing of his pontificate.
Appearing at the window of the papal study on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace, the pope immediately drew delighted laughs from the crowds by greeting them informally: "Brothers and sisters, good day."
"Good day!" the crowd shouted back.
As pilgrims waved national flags and banners proclaiming their faith, the pontiff reminded them of God's compassion and forgiveness, without which "the world would not exist."
"'Great is the mercy of the Lord,' Solomon said," the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics told his listeners. "Mercy makes the world less cold and a little more just."
The blessing is a Sunday tradition at the Vatican but normally never draws such large crowds except on special occasions. A similar throng filled the plaza Feb. 24 for the final Angelus given by Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, who a few days later became the first pope in six centuries to retire from office.
Although he issued the blessing from the study of the papal lodgings, as is usual, Francis has yet to move in to his new apartment.
Some renovation work needs to be done to the penthouse suite, whose vast size – it boasts a chapel, medical clinic and library among other rooms – reportedly shocked the new pope. In Buenos Aires, where he served as archbishop, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose to live in a small apartment near the cathedral rather than in the archbishop’s palace, in keeping with the vow of poverty he took as a Jesuit priest. One Italian newspaper reported that Francis might opt not to live in the papal suite. [For the record, 11:12 a.m. March 18: In an early version of this post the former cardinal's first name was incorrectly given as Jose.]
Elected last Wednesday by cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel, Francis has already endeared himself to many Catholics for his humble lifestyle and warm, engaging manner. On Saturday, journalists were charmed at an audience with the new pontiff when he blessed a radio reporter’s seeing-eye dog.
"He seems to be a normal priest even if he is a pope. I imagine him in the church when he celebrates Mass -- he seems close to the people," said Emanuella Mazzilli, a 24-year-old graduate student who arrived at the square 90 minutes before the pontiff spoke. It was already packed.
The 76-year-old Francis is to be officially installed as the 266th pope Tuesday, another event expected to draw tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and spectators.
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