Pope for barely 12 hours, Francis brushed off years of tradition and formality Thursday with a remarkable break in style that sent a clear message that his papacy is poised to reject many of the trappings enjoyed by now-retired Benedict XVI.
That was hardly out of character for Francis. For years, as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Argentine pastor took the bus to work, kissed the feet of AIDS patients and prayed with former prostitutes, eschewing the luxurious residence that would have been his due as archbishop of Buenos Aires.
But now he is pope – the first from the New World and the first Jesuit – and his style both personal and liturgical is in a global spotlight.
On his first day, he couldn't have signaled a greater contrast to Benedict, the German academic who was meek and generous in person but formal and traditional in public.
The differences played out Thursday in the Sistine Chapel as Francis, 76, celebrated his first public Mass as pope.
Whereas Benedict read a three-page discourse in Latin, Francis had a far simpler message. Speaking off-the-cuff for 10 minutes in easy Italian, he said that all Catholics must “build” the church and “walk” with the faith.
He urged priests to build their churches on solid foundations, warning: “What happens when children build sand castles on the beach? It all comes down.
“When we walk without the cross, and when we preach about Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are mundane. We are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but we are not disciples of the Lord.”
The new style was evident even in Francis' wardrobe. Rather than wear the new golden pectoral cross he was offered after his election Wednesday, he kept the simple crucifix of his days as bishop. He also turned down the red velvet cape that Benedict wore when he was presented to the world for the first time in 2005, choosing the simple white cassock of the papacy instead.
Francis began Thursday with an early morning trip in a simple Vatican car – not the papal sedan – to a Roman basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary, where he prayed to the Madonna.
Thursday, members of his flock were charmed when Francis stopped by the Vatican-owned residence where he stayed before the conclave to pick up his luggage. But that wasn't the only reason he made the detour.
“He wanted to thank the personnel, people who work in this house,” said the Rev. Pawel Rytel-Andrianek, a guest at the residence. “He greeted them one by one, no rush, the whole staff, one by one.”
Francis displayed that same sense of humility immediately after his election, spurning the throne on an elevated platform that was brought out for him to receive the cardinals' pledges of obedience, said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York.
Later, he traveled by bus back to the hotel along with the other cardinals, refusing the special sedan and security detail that he was offered.
Francis, said U.S. Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, has signaled his adherence to a “Gospel of simplicity.”
“And he has a sense of humor.
During dinner after his election Wednesday, the cardinals toasted him, Dolan said. “Then he toasted us and said, 'May God forgive you for what you've done.' ”