Vatican City: As Pope Francis officially began his papacy on Tuesday, he urged hundreds of thousands who were gathered for his inauguration Mass, to protect and respect each and every creature, especially the poorest and the weakest "who are often the last we think about".
Pope Francis, who is the first Jesuit Pope ever and derives his name from 13th century St. Francis of Assissi, made a strong case for caring and showing love and respect the downtrodden in his homily.
Outlining his priorities as a leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, Pope Francis said the role of the pope is to open his arms and protect all of humanity, but "especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison."
"Today amid so much darkness we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others," he said. "To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope, it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds," he said.
The Vatican said between 150,000-200,000 people attended the Mass, held under bright blue skies after days of chilly rain and featuring flag-waving fans from around the world.
Francis, 76, thrilled the crowd at the start of the Mass by taking a long round-about through the sun-drenched piazza and getting out of his jeep to bless a disabled man. It was a gesture from a man whose short papacy so far is becoming defined by such spontaneous forays into the crowd and concern for the disadvantaged.
In Buenos Aires, thousands of people packed the central Plaza di Mayo square to watch the celebration on giant TV screens.
Francis was interrupted by applause several times during his homily, including when he spoke of the need to protect the environment, serve one another with love and not allow "omens of destruction," hatred, envy and pride to "defile our lives."
The 76 year old Pope thrilled the crowd at the start of the Mass by taking a long round-about through the sun-drenched piazza and getting out of his jeep to bless a disabled man. It was a gesture from a man whose short papacy so far is becoming defined by such spontaneous forays into the crowd and concern for the disadvantaged.
Before the Mass began, Francis received the fisherman`s ring symbolizing the papacy and a woolen stole symbolizing his role as shepherd of his flock. He also received vows of obedience from a half-dozen cardinals — a potent symbol given his predecessor Benedict XVI is still alive and was reportedly watching the proceedings on TV from the papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo.
A cardinal intoned the rite of inauguration, saying: "The Good Shepherd charged Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep; today you succeed him as the bishop of this church."
After the Mass, Francis stood in a receiving line to greet each of the government delegations in St Peter`s Basilica, chatting warmly with each one, kissing the few youngsters who came along with their parents and occasionally blessing a rosary given to him. Unlike his predecessors, he did so in just his white cassock, not the red cape.
On Wednesday, he holds an audience with the visiting Christian delegations. He has a break from activity on Thursday; a gracious nod perhaps to the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is being installed that day in London.
With Agency Inputs