Sunday, March 17, 2013

Impromptu appearance, off-the-cuff address: Pope's Sunday surprises delight

"It's nice to be here to say hi to you all," said Pope Francis to a crowd of thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square Sunday. In his first Angelus blessing of his pontificate, the pope spoke about forgiveness. NBC's Keir Simmons reports.

By Frances D'Emilio, The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY -- A crowd of more than 150,000 people roared in delight as Pope Francis made the first Sunday window appearance of his papacy in St. Peter's Square.

Breaking with tradition, Francis delivered off-the-cuff remarks, about God's power to forgive, instead of reading from a written speech.

He also spoke only in Italian — beginning with "buon giorno" (Good day) and ending with "buon pranzo" (Have a good lunch) — instead of greeting the faithful in several languages as recent predecessors had done.

In just five days, Francis' straightforward, spontaneous style has become immediate hallmark of his papacy.  

PhotoBlog: See images of Pope Francis's first Sunday on the job

Earlier, he began his first Sunday as pontiff by making an impromptu appearance to the public from a side gate of the Vatican, startling passersby and prompting cheers, then kept up his simple, spontaneous style by delivering a brief, unscripted homily at the Vatican's tiny parish church.

Dressed only in white cassock, Francis waved to the crowd in the street outside St. Anna's Gate and before entering the church, which serves Vatican City State's hundreds of residents, he shook hands of the parishioners and kissed babies.

In keeping with his informal style, Francis then went over to the chief of his security detail and appeared to indicate he wanted to greet two priests in the crowd, who approached and embraced him.

Slideshow: Pope Francis: His life before the papacy

 Marcos Brindicci / Reuters
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was elected to lead the Catholic Church following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.

The impromptu appearance came more than two hours ahead of his first appointment of his papacy with the faithful from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square.

Benedict XVI gave his last window blessing on Sunday, Feb. 24. Four days later, Benedict went into retirement, the first pontiff to do so in 600 years.


Francis, the first Latin American pope, was elected on March 13.

Giant video screens were set up so that the overspill crowd could have a close-up look at Francis. Fifty medical teams were set up in case people fell or felt ill in the rush and crush to see Francis.

After the Mass, the pope stepped out jauntily from St. Anna's Church and waved to a crowd of hundreds kept behind barriers across the street, and then greeted the Vatican parishioners one by one. One young man patted the pope on the back in an indication of the informality that from the first moment of his papacy has been evident.

"Francesco, Francesco," children shouted his name in Italian from the street. As he patted one little boy on the head, he asked "Are you a good boy?" and the child nodded. "Are you sure?" the pope quipped.

In his homily, Francis spoke only five minutes, saying the core message of God is "that of mercy." He said God has an unfathomable capacity to pardon, and noted that people are often harder on each other than God is towards sinners.

Pope Francis said Saturday he wanted "a poor church for the poor" in his first remarks to the media since he was elected leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

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