Remember God’s mercy and patience, he told the assembled masses. And also: “Have a good lunch.”
Pope Francis, in his first scheduled public appearance, kept up the spontaneity and down-to-earth humor for which he has already become known within days of taking office, delighting a plaza packed with pilgrims who came Sunday to hear his first Angelus blessing.
Tens of thousands of people streamed into St. Peter’s Square hours before Francis appeared in the top-floor study window of the papal apartment overlooking the plaza. He greeted the throng just before noon, having already surprised some well-wishers on the streets below by breaking away from his security detail, shaking hands and kissing babies like a politician robed in white.
“Brothers and sisters, good day!” his voice boomed from the loudspeakers in the square.
“Good day!” the crowd roared back, laughing.
As they waved national flags and banners proclaiming their faith, the pontiff exhorted his listeners in a brief homily, some of it delivered off the cuff, to remember that without divine compassion and forgiveness, “the world would not exist.”
“God’s face is that of a merciful father who is always patient,” the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics said. “A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”
He cited writings by German Cardinal Walter Kasper, then elicited chuckles when he insisted that he wasn’t trying to publicize Kasper’s book.
The Angelus blessing is a Sunday tradition at the Vatican but never attracts 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.
But devotees have been agog at the complete contrast in style between the two men. Benedict tended to be stiff and reserved in public, unlike Francis and his engaging manner.
Benedict “distanced people, but this one -- you can tell from his expression -- he makes jokes, he is closer to us,” Lorenzo Tortorati, 33, said, adding: “He’s what you need for the church.”
Emanuella Mazzilli, 24, is also impressed by Francis’ winsome style.
“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 Mazzilli, a student who arrived at the square 90 minutes before the pontiff spoke. It was already jammed.
Although he issued the blessing from the study of the papal lodgings, as is usual, Francis has yet to move in to his new digs.
Some renovation work needs to be done to the penthouse suite, whose 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 Jose Mario Bergoglio chose to live in a small apartment near the cathedral rather than in the archbishop’s official residence, in keeping with the vow of poverty he took as a Jesuit priest.
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.