Pope displays humility during first day on job
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VATICAN CITY -- Among Pope Francis' first acts as pontiff were delivering a late-afternoon homily in Italian instead of the lofty Latin preferred by his predecessors and traveling to morning prayers in a modest sedan rather than the official papal Mercedes adorned with a vanity plate.
The pontiff also briefly put on hold his papal tasks to settle an outstanding matter from his previous life: He paid his hotel bill.
Those acts Thursday on his first full day of work were seen by observers as signs of both the humility the former Cardinal Bergoglio has long been known for and as a break with tradition, signaling to the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics that he might live up to his namesake's reputation.
The former Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio became the 266th pontiff in an unusually short, two-day conclave -- two weeks after Pope Benedict XVI stepped down.
He immediately picked the name of Francis, identifying with St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th century friar who dedicated his life to helping the poor.
During his first official Mass about 5 p.m. Thursday, Pope Francis made a call to strengthen the church through the spirit of Jesus. He said that without it the church becomes fragile, like a sand castle at the beach.
"When we walk, build and confess without the cross, we are not disciples of God," he said as cardinals dressed in golden cassocks listened inside the Sistine Chapel. "We are mundane, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord."
He gave his first homily in Italian, showing a clear break away from his conservative successor Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2005 delivered it in Latin.
Pope Francis is the first Jesuit and the first cardinal from the Americas to be elected pope. He is also the first to be chosen from outside Europe since the Middle Ages.
He inherits a Vatican in turmoil, plagued with financial scandals, declining moral stature due to the sexual abuse committed by some of its priests, and administrative mismanagement.
The College of Cardinals surprised the world when it chose a humble leader to lead a church in crisis, experts said.
On his first morning as pope, Francis prayed for his flock at one of the main basilicas of Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore.
Unlike previous popes, he arrived to the ornate basilica without a parade of escorts for the 8 a.m. service. He also chose a modest sedan as his form of transport, eschewing the papal car, a Mercedes with a license plate reading "#1 Vatican City State."
The act was reminiscent of his choice to live in a small apartment in Buenos Aires rather than the palatial residence reserved for him. What's more, he took the bus to work and rejected the limousine he could have used, commuting like a common man in Latin America.
On his way back to the Santa Marta residence Thursday, he stopped by the priest residence where he was staying before the conclave, greeted the employees and paid his hotel bill.
"He wanted to set a good example from the beginning," said Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
Experts say he showed signs of humility and change since he first appeared on the papal balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on Wednesday night. He greeted thousands of jubilant people wearing a simple white cassock instead of the red cape that Benedict XVI often wore.
He also substituted the golden papal cross for a simple one he used as bishop.
Lombardi said that those acts indicate clear differences between Pope Francis, who was a pastor for the people of Buenos Aires, and his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, an academic. However, Lombardi said it was still too early to know what kind of spiritual leader Pope Francis will be.
"Certainly we've had some indication already," he said.
With Zachary R. Dowdy