VATICAN CITY — Before they even saw his face, Pope Francis had already won over the Roman masses.
The announcement that he would be known by the same name as St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of Italy, sent the crowd into ecstasy.
He did even better with his first words, when the 76-year-old Argentine said the cardinals had reached to the “end of the earth” to find the bishop of Rome — recalling the beloved Pope John Paul II, a Polish cardinal who told his first crowd in 1978 that cardinals had called him “from a far country.”
The former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio is the son of an Italian immigrant and his Italian is only lightly accented.
“Let us pray for the whole world, that there may be a great spirit of fraternity,” he said.
The Romans weren’t the only ones who were won over.
Kim Daniels, director of Catholic Voices USA, was struck by the humility the pope exhibited when he emerged on the balcony.
“He kneeled down. He asked for the crowd’s blessing. We saw him pray along with the crowd the Our Father, the Hail Mary, joining us all in those prayers that are so familiar to Catholics,” she said.
“It was a sign of humility. It was a sign that holiness is the most important thing here. It is so, so wonderful to see someone really focus on prayer like that.”
And he sounded almost grandfatherly as he wished the crowd, “Good night and sleep well.”
His choice of dress also sent a message. Francis steered clear of the fur-trimmed red cape known as a mozzetta that popes often wear for ceremonial occasions, and put on a stole only for his blessing. That is in keeping with a personal style that has been considered the antithesis of Vatican splendor
At home in Buenos Aires, he sold the expensive archbishop’s residence and lived in a modest apartment, did his own cooking and rode the bus to work.
That is in marked contrast with the way a number of Vatican cardinals live, starting with splendid homes and chauffeured cars.
Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, lived modestly. But his values clashed with Vatican officials linked to corruption and careerism and he was undermined by a scandal of leaked confidential documents that was blamed on his personal butler.
Now those issues fall on Francis to solve.