ROME – Pope Francis on Tuesday urged humanity to respect all God’s creatures and the environment in a homily to a crowd of some 200,000 people and a broader audience across the world as he was inaugurated as the 266th bishop of Rome.
The ceremony was held on the Feast of St. Joseph, the father of Jesus who was entrusted by God to be a “protector” of Mary and their son, Francis said from a stage overlooking dozens of heads of state and government and a crowd that filled St. Peter’s Square and streamed up the wide avenue of Via della Conciliazione where many watched the proceedings on video screens.
“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,” he told the crowd.
Francis inherits a church riven by intrigue and infighting within its bureaucracy and weakened by the fallout from sexual abuse scandals. With his built-in appeal to the developing world, where Catholicism is growing fastest, Francis may help rejuvenate a faith that’s in decline in Europe and barely growing in the United States.
In his homily, Pope Francis also warned about human frailty.
“Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened,” he said.
Francis began the morning by greeting the crowd, standing in the back of a convertible as it slowly looped through St. Peter’s Square. During the ceremony, he received his new papal ring, delivered a homily and received an oath of loyalty from his cardinals, considered the princes of the church.
Communion was then offered by 500 priests to a crowd the Vatican estimated at 200,000.
“He has a look of incredible peace,” said Laura Vives, a doctor from La Plata, Argentina, whose vacation happened to coincide with the inauguration, permitting her to attend. “He’s humble, and above all, that’s what people in power need to be. He’s merciful and that’s what he is asking of people, not just Catholics, but everyone, that we be humble and merciful.”
According to Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, 132 political and spiritual delegations attended, with 31 heads of state and 11 heads of government on hand.
The U.S., whose citizens are the biggest donors to church coffers, was represented by Vice President Biden, a Catholic.
After the inauguration, Pope Francis posted a message on Twitter saying “true power is service. The pope must serve all people, especially the poor, the weak, the vulnerable.”
In what is a busy week for Francis, 76, his most significant appointment may be his private lunch on Saturday with Benedict XVI, who set the papal transition in motion with his surprise resignation.
There are no historic precedents of an emeritus pope and a sitting pontiff, making the encounter a closely scrutinized affair for Vatican watchers seeking to detect how much influence the old pope may exert on the new.
Benedict has vowed to withdraw from the world and live out his days in a convent inside the Vatican walls.