VATICAN CITY — In his first address to the multitudes in St. Peter’s Square since the night of his election, Pope Francis continued to delight listeners with his simplicity and a message of love and mercy.
Speaking from a window high above the square, he reflected on the gospel story of a woman caught in adultery, who Jesus spared from stoning by asking her accusers “Which of you is without sin? Let him cast the first stone.”
“Well, brothers and sisters! God’s face is that of a merciful father who is always patient,” Pope Francis said. “He always has patience, is always patient with us, understanding us, awaiting us, never tiring of forgiving us if we know how to return to him with a contrite heart.”
The crowd, estimated at nearly 200,000, was silent for his 15-minute talk, then roared approval. The cheer many have adopted is his Italian name, “Fran-chess-co!” in the same cadence that American sports fans at international events chant “U-S-A!”
The new pope’s Angelus, or blessing, reportedly had a better turnout than Sunday’s Rome Marathon, for which the route was adjusted to accommodate crowds seeking Pope Francis.
Earlier in the morning he presided at Mass in the small parish of St. Anne, inside the walls of the Vatican, where Vatican City residents worship. He wore unadorned vestments of Lenten purple, similar to those of the priests, and stood alongside them to distribute the communion.
Afterward he greeted parishioners as any pastor would.
He had preached on the same text, this time without notes.
“I also think we are like this people who, on the one hand want to listen to Jesus, but, on the other hand, at times, like to be cruel to others, isn’t that right? To condemn others, right?” the Pope asked.
“This is the Lord’s strongest message: mercy. He himself said: ‘I did not come for the righteous.’ The righteous can justify themselves. … Jesus came for the sinners.”
In his Angelus, Pope Francis also mentioned that he was reading a book on mercy by Cardinal Walter Kasper, the former head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who turned 80 inside the conclave that elected Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio on Wednesday.
He commended the book — which is not available in English — drawing raised eyebrows from those who had heard that Cardinal Kasper and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — who became Pope Benedict XVI — had a reputation for clashing over how the church addressed itself to the wider world.
The Vatican is expecting even larger crowds for Pope Francis’ inaugural Mass on Tuesday.
His two most closely watched meetings this week are an audience today for President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina, with whom he has clashed over gay marriage and other social policies, and a Saturday visit to Benedict XVI, emeritus pontiff, at the papal summer residence Castel Gandolfo.
He has “provisionally” returned all the top officials at the Vatican to their former positions, from which they were required to step down after Pope Benedict’s abdication on Feb. 28.
Ordinarily returning them to office is pro forma, but there have been many complaints by bishops and cardinals about incompetence and malfeasance in the Vatican bureaucracy.
There was a strong call for a new pope to clean house. The Vatican statement implied that change could be expected.
“The Holy Father wishes to reserve time for reflection, prayer and dialogue before any final appointment or confirmation,” the press office said.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Ann Rodgers is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
Contact Ann Rodgers at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 412-263-1416.