Pope Francis Displays 'Common Touch' On First Day

Pope Francis' spent his first day as leader of the Roman Catholic Church on Thursday.

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It was the first day on the job for the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis, who only yesterday was known as Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, made a private visit today to a Roman basilica. He also presided over Mass with the cardinals who elected him in the Sistine Chapel. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports the pope displayed a common touch and signaled his desire to rebuild a damaged church.

(SOUNDBITE OF MASS)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language)

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Gregorian chants wafted through the Sistine Chapel this afternoon as the 115 cardinals who elected the new pope filed solemnly before the altar. Above it, Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" glistened in its magnificent colors. Francis began the ancient ritual of the Mass in Latin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MASS)

POPE FRANCIS: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Amen.

FRANCIS: (Foreign language spoken)

POGGIOLI: But when it came to his homily, the newly elected pope spoke in Italian and, breaking with tradition, spoke without a prepared text. The message was simple. He urged the Catholic Church to follow its roots, proclaim the Gospel and avoid worldly temptations. Francis repeatedly focused on three concepts: to walk, to build, to proclaim Christ.

(SOUNDBITE OF MASS)

FRANCIS: (Foreign language spoken)

POGGIOLI: Walk. Our life is a constant walk, Francis said. And when we stop, something is wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF MASS)

FRANCIS: (Foreign language spoken)

POGGIOLI: If we don't proclaim Christ, the pope added, we will become a compassionate NGO and not a church, which is the bride of Christ.

(SOUNDBITE OF MASS)

FRANCIS: (Through translator) Those who build on worldly rather than spiritual values are like children building sandcastles on a beach. Everything comes crashing down. There's no substance.

POGGIOLI: The tone of today's homily was in sharp contrast to the tone of Francis' predecessor, Benedict, who read his first homily in 2005 in Latin and focused mainly on the loss of faith in Europe. Francis today sounded much more like a pastor with a global vision rather than a theologian.

His appearance was also a break with Benedict's traditional, almost medieval style. Francis' vestments were far less adorned. No gold for him, he has kept the simple metal pectoral cross from his days as a bishop. Already last night, leaving the Sistine Chapel, the new pope displayed the humility for which he's known. Vatican spokesman Father Tom Rosica said the new pontiff refused to return to the cardinal's residence in a special car put at his disposal.

THE REV. THOMAS ROSICA: He said, no, I'm going in the bus because I came here in the bus with all of you. I'll drive back in the bus to Casa Santa Marta.

POGGIOLI: And this morning, after a private visit to pray at the Roman basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, Pope Francis asked to be dropped off first at the residence where he had left his luggage.

ROSICA: He then stopped in the main office, greeted everyone and decided to pay the bill for his room that he had been occupying for the past few weeks because he was concerned about giving a good example of what priests and bishops should do.

POGGIOLI: A church beset by clerical sex abuse scandals, infighting and bad governance is in desperate need of good examples. Today, the Austrian cardinal, Christoph Schoenborn, who was a leading papal contender, said there is a massive need for reform. He was referring to the Vatileaks scandal, the release of secret Vatican documents last year that revealed corruption within the Vatican and shady dealings at the Vatican Bank.

It's too soon to say how far the new pope is willing or able to go to introduce the necessary reforms and help put the Catholic Church more in tune with the modern world. But Catholics around the world are already closely listening to the direct and simple message of Pope Francis. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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