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Pope Francis celebrates inaugural Mass to begin pontificate

Catholic World News - March 19, 2013

Pope Francis formally began his pontificate on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, with an inaugural Mass celebrated in St. Peter’s Square.

Hundreds of thousands of people crowded into St. Peter’s Square, arriving early in the morning to secure a place for the 2-hour ceremony. The new Pope arrived in the “popemobile” about 45 minutes before the Mass began, and drove slowly through the crowd, greeting the public. In one dramatic gesture Pope Francis ordered the drive to stop the vehicle, and he climbed out to give his blessing to a severely disabled man, chatting for a few moments before resuming his tour.

The formal ceremony began with a procession into St. Peter’s basilica, where the Pope venerated the tomb of St. Peter. Then he was vested with the pallium, the symbol of his authority, placed over his shoulders by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the senior cardinal-deacon. Next he received the Fisherman’s Ring, placed on his finger by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals. In the final ritual confirming his new authority, he received acts of obedience from six cardinals who had been selected to represent the entire College of Cardinals.

In line with the Pope’s desire for a relatively simple ceremony, there was no Offertory procession, and the Gospel was chanted only in Greek—rather than in both Greek and Latin, as at previous inaugural Masses. Pope Francis delivered his homily in Italian.

The Pope began his homily by noting how appropriate it was to begin his papal ministry on the feast of St. Joseph, the patron of the universal Church. He mentioned, too, that the feast was the name-day of his predecessor Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger. Then he observed that St. Joseph’s mission in life was to protect Jesus and Mary, and offered that same mission as a model for everyone.

“Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation,” the Pope said. He went on:

I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.

The new Pope acknowledged that he now has a special responsibility as the 265th successor to St. Peter. But he quickly added that Jesus told St. Peter to “feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” Pope Francis remarked: “Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross.”

The Pope concluded his homily by saying that he saw his role as very similar to that of St. Joseph: “To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves."

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