Pope Francis makes his mark in the piazza

Pope Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Picture: AFP
Pope Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Picture: AFP
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Pope Francis spent his first day as leader of 1.2 billion Catholics praying, paying his hotel bill and catching the bus.

Much has been made of the 76-year-old’s humility and modesty, previously winning praise for eschewing the trappings of office for a frugal life in Buenos Aires, where he was archbishop.

Yesterday, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio set his marker down as he means to go on. Before celebrating mass at the Sistine Chapel, he enjoyed an unannounced early morning visit to a Roman basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary and prayed before a Byzantine icon of the Madonna and infant Jesus.

He then crossed the road to greet schoolchildren and commuters travelling to work.

Later, the immigrant railway worker’s son stopped by a Vatican-owned priests’ residence in Piazza Navona to collect his luggage – a task he could have arranged for someone else to do but chose not to.

Pope Francis was driven in an unremarkable car, not the papal vehicle, and asked if he needed to pay the bill.

In the hours after his historic election, he also shunned the special sedan that was to ferry him to meet the cardinals. Instead, Francis chose to travel on a bus with the cardinals, and when he arrived he refused an elevated platform which he was supposed to meet them from.

As the American Cardinal Timothy Dolan said: “He met with us on our own level.”

The main item on the Pope’s agenda yesterday was celebrating his inaugural mass in the Sistine Chapel.

Francis showed how different he would be as a pastor, giving an off-the-cuff homily about the need to walk with God, build up his church and confess – at one point referring to children building sandcastles on the beach.

It was a far simpler message than the dense, three-page discourse Benedict XVI delivered in Latin during his first mass as pope in 2005.