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Argentina’s Jorge Bergoglio Becomes Pope Francis

pope-francisWhen Jorge Bergoglio stepped onto the balcony at the Vatican on Wednesday to reveal himself as the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, he made history as the first non-European pope of the modern era, the first from Latin America, the first Jesuit and the first to assume the name Francis.

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Rome — It was with a call for the protection of the weakest in society that Francis was officially inaugurated Tuesday as the Catholic Church’s 266th pontiff, before a crowd of tens of thousands bathed in sunlight.

Giving his homily before the throngs in St. Peter’s Square, Francis showed the humility and concern for ordinary people that have been noted since he became the first Latin American to be elected pope six days ago.

Before he spoke, he was given the official symbols of his papacy: a lamb’s wool shawl, to represent his role as “the good shepherd,” and the Fisherman’s Ring, to represent his role of spreading the gospel.

Lynette Romero reports.

Rome (CNN) — It was with a call for the protection of the weakest in society that Francis was officially inaugurated Tuesday as the Catholic Church’s 266th pontiff, before a crowd of tens of thousands bathed in sunlight.

Giving his homily before the throngs in St. Peter’s Square, Francis showed the humility and concern for ordinary people that have been noted since he became the first Latin American to be elected pope six days ago.

Before he spoke, he was given the official symbols of his papacy: a lamb’s wool shawl, to represent his role as “the good shepherd,” and the Fisherman’s Ring, to represent his role of spreading the gospel.

Thpope-inauge ring is secondhand and is not solid gold like that of this predecessors, but made of gold-plated silver — again reflecting his desire for simplicity.

The pope delivered his homily in Italian, rooted in a message of looking after the poor and sick, as well as the natural world.

He reflected first on the symbolism of the date: this is the day that Catholics celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph to honor Jesus’ father on Earth, the carpenter Joseph.

Francis spoke of Joseph’s role in protecting not only Jesus and Mary, but also the church.

He spoke too of the need to protect “all creation, the beauty of the created world” as instructed by the Bible and shown by St. Francis of Assisi, whose name he took as pope.

This, he said, “means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about.”

He warned of the consequences if people do not look after one another.

“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.”

And he urged those in power to live up to their duties, and to all to avoid evil, hatred and pride.

“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 said.

World figures

After his homily, 500 priests dispensed communion to the throngs of locals, pilgrims, tourists and dignitaries gathered for the historic occasion.

Between 150,000 and 200,000 people turned out in and around St. Peter’s Square, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman.

Police in the area told CNN there were fewer people than expected but declined to give an estimate.

Back in St. Peter’s Basilica, the newly installed bishop of Rome greeted the dignitaries who had flocked from around the world to attend the inauguration Mass.

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, from Francis’ native Argentina, was the first head of state to step up.

Vice President Joe Biden, leading the U.S. presidential delegation, was also among those to meet the pope, as was Zimbabwe’s controversial President Robert Mugabe.

Mugabe is subject to a European Union travel ban but allowed to visit the continent for religious events and international conferences.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone — effectively the Vatican’s prime minister — was at the pope’s side as he gave his greetings.

In his first tweet after his inauguration on the @Pontifex account, Pope Francis said: “Let us keep a place for Christ in our lives, let us care for one another and let us be loving custodians of creation.”

Francis has already made an impression as a pope of the people who is concerned about the welfare of the poor. But he inherits a church wracked by a decades-old sexual abuse scandal and claims of corruption in the clergy.

Kissing babies

Pope Francis earlier made his way into the square atop an open-top vehicle, spending 17 minutes circling among the crowds in bright sunshine.

He wore the simple iron cross that he wore as a cardinal and that he had on when he first appeared to the world as pope.

When the gathered faithful held up babies and young children for him to kiss, he obliged.

He also stepped out of his sport utility vehicle to kiss the head of a man with a physical disability.

Even though at least a dozen security officers in suits walked alongside the SUV as he circled the square, his decision to bypass the Popemobile, which his last two predecessors used, was telling.

The Mercedes Benz G-Class SUV afforded him the kind of direct contact with people he has embraced since becoming pope.

Had he been in the Popemobile, he would have been behind bulletproof glass, which was installed in 1981 after an assassination attempt on John Paul II.

Francis then took part in ceremonies in St. Peter’s Basilica, before emerging once more in a solemn procession before the massed crowds in the square.

The Mass, which inaugurates Francis as bishop of Rome and marks the official start of his papacy, was short, lasting about two hours.

This was in keeping with the spirit of simplicity embraced by the new holy father, the Vatican said before the occasion.

Argentines watch Mass

Back in Francis’ home city, the Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires, the faithful packed the main square to watch the event on large screens set up throughout the Plaza de Mayo.

According to the state-run newspaper Telam, a telephone call Francis had made from the Vatican was played to all present, saying: “Thanks for the prayers.”

He added, “Let us be aware of one another, care for life, nature, children and old people,” before concluding by asking those present to pray for him.

Groups also gathered in other cities throughout Argentina to watch the early morning Mass, Telam reported.

The event in St. Peter’s Square was attended by 132 delegations from around the world, including six reigning sovereigns and 31 heads of state.

Those delegations are among scores from nations and international organizations traveling to the Vatican, led by heads of states and governments.

European Union leaders Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy were among those present.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi accompanied Biden in the U.S. delegation, the White House said.

On Friday, House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, said he would send a separate bipartisan congressional delegation.

There were also groups from the Americas, including Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Canada, and from European nations such as Italy, Holland, Belgium and Germany.

Representatives from across Christianity — Eastern and Western — were also present, along with members of other religions, including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism.

This is also one of the busiest times of the year on the Christian calendar, which will mean many public appearances for the new pontiff.

Less than a week away is Palm Sunday, the holiday that kicks off Holy Week, which culminates in Easter celebrations.

Rome (CNN) — The Vatican has sought to quell controversy over Pope Francis’ conduct during Argentina’s so-called Dirty War, amid accusations that he could have done more to protect two Jesuit priests who were kidnapped.

A meeting on the pope’s agenda on Monday may be another sign that he’s trying to put the past behind him.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is scheduled to meet with Francis in the afternoon.

As a cardinal, Francis clashed with the president’s government over his opposition to gay marriage and free distribution of contraceptives. But she sent a letter congratulating him as he assumed his new role.

The accusations have resurfaced since the Argentine cardinal’s unexpected election to the papacy last week.

A book by investigative reporter Horacio Verbitsky accuses Francis, who was then Jorge Mario Bergoglio and was head of the country’s Jesuit order, of deliberately failing to protect the two priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, when they were seized by the navy.

They were found alive five months later.

But the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, dismissed the claims — which date back to Argentina’s so-called Dirty War from 1976 to 1983 — as false and defamatory.

“The campaign against Bergoglio is well-known and goes back to many years ago. It was promoted by a defamatory publication,” Lombardi said at a Vatican news conference on Friday.

“This was never a concrete or credible accusation in his regard. He was questioned by an Argentinian court as someone aware of the situation but never as a defendant. He has, in documented form, denied any accusations,” said Lombardi.

“Instead, there have been many declarations demonstrating how much Bergoglio did to protect many persons at the time of the military dictatorship,” he said.

His role after he became bishop of Buenos Aires in asking for forgiveness for the church for not having done enough at the time of the dictatorship “is also well-known,” Lombardi said.

Although the allegations against Francis have never been proven, they continue to haunt him, so much so that the human rights group Center for Legal and Social Studies in Argentina opposed Francis’ selection as pope.

But an investigator with Argentina’s National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons that looked into alleged crimes from that period said she knew of no information that implicated Bergoglio.

“In the case of the priests … He told them many times to leave the militancy because they were in danger,” investigator Graciela Fernández Meijide said.

“They decided to continue with these activities and later were victims of kidnap and torture.”

“What could they say? That he didn’t take enough care of them?”

During the years of military dictatorship, up to 30,000 students, labor leaders, intellectuals and leftists disappeared or were held in secret jails and torture centers.

The claims against the new pope have cast a shadow over what has otherwise been widely viewed as a positive start for the new pontiff, who has embraced humility and simplicity.

First Sunday as pope

Thousands of Catholics waving flags from around the world packed St. Peter’s Square on Sunday to hear Pope Francis deliver his inaugural Angelus.

The new pontiff gave the noon blessing from the papal apartment window, speaking to more than 200,000 worshipers in the square four days after his election as pope.

“Dear brothers and sisters, good morning,” he said in Italian, drawing cheers from the crowd.

During the 15-minute address, he focused on forgiveness.

“Never forget this: The Lord never tires of forgiving us,” he said. “Have you thought about the patience that God has with each of us?”

He made the historic address after celebrating Mass at Sant’Anna parish in Vatican City earlier Sunday.

In his first week as pontiff, Francis has enjoyed global fanfare as the first Latin American pope and the first Jesuit pope in modern times.

Inaugural Mass

Come Tuesday, St. Peter’s Square will again bustle with the faithful, tourists and locals during the official Mass to inaugurate Francis as the bishop of Rome.

The choice of day to anoint him as the holy father of the Roman Catholic Church carries a rich symbolism: It is the day that Catholics celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph to honor Jesus’ father on Earth, the carpenter Joseph.

It also happens to be Father’s Day in Italy.

Foreign dignitaries and heads of state are welcome to attend but by tradition don’t receive a specific invitation, Lombardi said.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is to lead the U.S. presidential delegation for the Mass, the White House said Friday, with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi also among the party.

On Friday, House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, said he will send a separate bipartisan congressional delegation.

All of these developments come during one of the busiest times of the year on the Christian calendar.

Palm Sunday is less than a week away, and the new pontiff will be busy, as it is the holiday that kicks off Holy Week, which culminates in Easter celebrations.

Reforms to come?

In just his first few days as pope, Francis has prompted speculation that he may bring in wider changes.

While he decided the heads of the various Vatican offices will keep their jobs for now, he’s not making any definitive appointments, the Vatican said Saturday.

CNN Vatican analyst John Allen, who’s also a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, said this is the first clear signal that he may be serious about reform.

“It’s customary for new popes to swiftly reconfirm the department heads who lose their positions when the previous pontificate ends, and then take his time about bringing in his team,” Allen said.

“The fact that Francis has not followed that path may suggest that significant personnel moves will come sooner rather than later.”

Francis wants “a certain period for reflection, prayer and dialogue before (making) any definitive nomination or confirmation,” the Vatican statement said.

ROME (CNN) — The new pope gave an insight into his choice of the name Francis in an audience with journalists Saturday — his first meeting with the media since he was chosen as leader of the Roman Catholic Church three days ago.

Francis, who before he became pope was known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, said a fellow cardinal from Brazil had told him “don’t forget the poor” as the votes stacked up in his favor.

This thought stuck in his mind, Francis said, as it became clear that he had won the two-thirds majority that meant he was the new pontiff.

“Right away, with regard to the poor, I thought of St. Francis of Assisi, then I thought of war,” he told the assembled journalists. “Francis loved peace and that is how the name came to me.”

He had also thought of St. Francis of Assisi’s concern for the natural environment, he said, and how he was a “poor man, a simple man, as we would like a poor church, for the poor.”

The journalists included Vatican communications staff and several Latin American reporters, mostly from Argentina.

Francis began by thanking them all for their efforts to share with the world the momentous events for the church in the days since Benedict announced his unexpected resignation.

He drew a parallel between the work of the media and that of the church, saying both worked to convey a message of “truth, beauty and goodness.”

The media also had an important role to play in explaining the way the church works, he said, which is made more complicated by the role played by faith rather than more worldly or political concerns.

The new pope concluded the audience — which did not include questions — with a blessing for all the journalists present and their families.

He acknowledged that not all those present were Catholic, saying he gave them his blessing “knowing that you are of different religions, because all of you are children of God.”

As a cardinal in Buenos Aires, Francis developed close relations with Argentina’s Jewish community.

He wrote to the chief rabbi in Rome this week, saying he strongly hoped to “contribute to the progress of the relations that have existed between Jews and Catholics” since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which redrew the church’s relations with the modern world, “in a spirit of renewed collaboration.”

Military dictatorship

Questions have resurfaced in the media since Francis’ election over his conduct during Argentina’s so-called Dirty War, amid accusations that he could have done more to protect two Jesuit priests who were kidnapped.

The Vatican rejected the allegations as defamatory and untrue in a news conference Friday.

“This was never a concrete or credible accusation in his regard. He was questioned by an Argentinian court as someone aware of the situation but never as a defendant. He has, in documented form, denied any accusations,” said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman.

“Instead, there have been many declarations demonstrating how much Bergoglio did to protect many persons at the time of the military dictatorship,” he said.

Francis will meet with his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in a week, the Vatican said Saturday.

The March 23 meeting will take place at the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, where Benedict has been staying since his historic resignation.

It comes amid concern in some quarters that the presence of a living former pope might lead to a conflict of interests or influence.

The Vatican has said that Benedict will not seek to interfere in the running of the church, but will focus on study and prayer.

The official Mass to inaugurate Francis as the bishop of Rome takes place Tuesday.

VATICAN CITY (CNN) — The Vatican pushed back Friday against claims that Pope Francis failed to protect two fellow Jesuit priests who were kidnapped during Argentina’s military dictatorship.

The accusations have resurfaced since the Argentine cardinal’s unexpected election to the papacy two days ago.

new-popeA book by investigative reporter Horacio Verbitsky accuses Francis, who was then Jorge Mario Bergoglio and was head of the country’s Jesuit order, of deliberately failing to protect the two priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, when they were seized by the navy. They were found alive five months later.

But the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, dismissed the claims — which date back to Argentina’s so-called Dirty War from 1976 to 1983 — as false and defamatory.

“The campaign against Bergoglio is well-known and goes back to many years ago. It was promoted by a defamatory publication,” Lombardi said at a Vatican news conference.

“This was never a concrete or credible accusation in his regard. He was questioned by an Argentinian court as someone aware of the situation but never as a defendant. He has, in documented form, denied any accusations,” said Lombardi.

“Instead, there have been many declarations demonstrating how much Bergoglio did to protect many persons at the time of the military dictatorship,” he said.

His role after he became bishop of Buenos Aires in asking for forgiveness for the church for not having done enough at the time of the dictatorship “is also well-known,” Lombardi said.

A fellow Vatican spokesman, the Rev Thomas Rosica, said the accusations “reveal left-wing elements, anti-clerical elements that are used to attack the church. They must be firmly and clearly denied.”

The Vatican has a lot of experience in dealing with negative publicity campaigns against individuals or the church, he said.

As for Francis, he said, “We have information before us that gives us every assurance of the tremendous credibility of this person.”

Nonetheless, the incident led to rumors and allegations that Francis was complicit in the dictatorship’s appalling atrocity — that he didn’t do enough to expose it and perhaps was even partly responsible for the priests’ prolonged detention, said Jim Nicholson, a former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

Although the allegations against Francis have never been proved, they continue to haunt him, so much so that the human rights group Center for Legal and Social Studies in Argentina opposes Francis’ selection as pope.

During the years of military dictatorship, up to 30,000 students, labor leaders, intellectuals and leftists disappeared or were held in secret jails and torture centers.

The claims against the new pope have cast a shadow over what has otherwise been widely viewed as a positive start for the new pontiff, who has embraced humility and simplicity.

As pope, he will have other tough questions to deal with. He takes the helm of a Roman Catholic Church that has been rocked in recent years by sex abuse by priests, and claims of corruption and infighting among the church hierarchy.

After the pomp and activities surrounding his election as pontiff, Francis’ only public engagement Friday was a meeting with all the Catholic cardinals, who wait to see what changes he will make.

Francis expressed his gratitude to Benedict XVI, saying that during his nearly eight years as pontiff, he had “reinvigorated the church with his goodness, faith, knowledge and humility.”

He had words of encouragement for the cardinals, too, as they seek to take the church forward. “Go back to your homes and continue your ministry enriched by the experience of these days,” he said. “Let us never give in to pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil offers us every day.”

Friday’s gathering, aired on Vatican TV, gave the new pontiff a chance to catch up with the cardinals who were not eligible to vote in the conclave — those age 80 or older. That’s nearly half of all cardinals.

Remarking on the fact that many are getting on in years, he said the cardinals should pass on their experience to younger generations. “Wisdom is like a good bottle of wine, and we must give it to the young people,” he said.

The pope, dressed simply in white, then exchanged a few warm words with each cardinal as they left the hall one by one.

Inaugural Mass

Come Tuesday, St. Peter’s Square will again bustle with the faithful, tourists and locals during the official Mass to inaugurate Francis as the bishop of Rome.

The choice of day to anoint him as the holy father of the Roman Catholic Church carries a rich symbolism: It is the day that Catholics celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph to honor Jesus’ father on Earth, the carpenter Joseph. It also happens to be Father’s Day in Italy.

Foreign dignitaries and heads of state are welcome to attend but by tradition don’t receive a specific invitation, Lombardi said.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is to lead the U.S. presidential delegation for the Mass, the White House said Friday, with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi also among the party. On Friday, House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, said he will send a separate bipartisan congressional delegation.

On Saturday, Francis will give an audience to the media. He will probably hold Mass on Sunday, then deliver the traditional Angelus, one of the most common Catholic prayers, the spokesman said.

Palm Sunday is just a week later, and the new pontiff will be busy, as it is the holiday that kicks off Holy Week, which culminates in Easter celebrations.

A new direction

Rosica, the Vatican spokesman, said that Francis was making his own mark as the 266th pope — and shaking things up a little.

As head of the church, the Argentine is following the same path he took during his years as archbishop in Buenos Aires, he told CNN.

“He was a pastor there, very close to the people, and he’s continued that — he’s simply changed the color of his robes right now, and the world is paying attention to every move, every word, every gesture,” Rosica said.

“Those of us who were used to him in Buenos Aires are not at all surprised with this, but I can tell you that it does send some jolts through the system here, which is so deeply rooted in tradition and beautiful ceremonies and following the Book.

“Pope Francis is telling us that the Book is very important, but there’s even something more important: Be faithful, be close to the people, smile and take things as they come.”

Lombardi, in the news briefing, gave a similar message. “We are all learning how to behave around the holy father. We don’t have instructions yet from him on how he wants to be treated,” he said.

Rosica said the media’s focus on the scandals surrounding the church missed the point of why Francis was elected as pope.

“The cardinals chose someone who is a model of holiness, they chose someone who has a real passion for evangelization … which is more than just a buzzword, this is what the church is all about.

“They chose someone who has an extraordinary record for compassion, for relating to people not just within the Catholic Church … but those on the fringes, the poor, the destitute, the disenfranchised, those living in irregular relationships, those who have suffered, those who have brought suffering upon themselves.”

‘Put faith first’

Francis set the tone for his vision of the church’s future in his first Mass as pope Thursday, held in the Sistine Chapel with the cardinals who participated in the conclave.

With solemnity, he delivered a short, unscripted homily about moving the Catholic Church forward, saying its leaders must put faith at the heart of what they do — or risk it becoming nothing more than a charity.

“We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the church, the bride of the Lord,” he said.

“When we are not walking, we stop moving. When we are not building on the stones, what happens? The same thing that happens to children on the beach when they build sandcastles: Everything is swept away, there is no solidity.”

After the Mass, the seals were ceremonially removed from the doors of the papal apartment at the Vatican, although renovation work must be done before Francis moves in. The apartment was sealed after Benedict XVI’s departure two weeks ago.

Pope of firsts

When Jorge Bergoglio stepped onto the balcony at the Vatican on Wednesday evening to reveal himself as the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, he made history as the first non-European pope of the modern era, the first from Latin America, the first Jesuit and the first to assume the name Francis.

He takes charge of a global flock at a time when confidence in the church has been dented by revelations of sex scandals and corruption claims.

A group representing the alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests wrote an open letter Francis on Thursday, requesting a meeting.

Before the conclave, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) had published a list of potential pontiffs who they felt might sweep their concerns under the rug, as well as a list of candidates they believed would lend an open ear to their concerns. Pope Francis was on neither list.

The 76-year-old is the first pope to take the name Francis. He does so in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, revered among Catholics for his work with the poor.

As pope, he brings together the first and the developing worlds. Latin America is home to 480 million Catholics — around 40% of all those in the world.

The pontiff is seen as a conservative in doctrinal matters, as was his predecessor. As a cardinal, he clashed with the government of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner over his opposition to gay marriage and free distribution of contraceptives.

However, Francis’ first public appearance as pope — when he appealed for the crowds to pray for him before he gave a blessing — suggested a “different pastoral style” from that of Benedict, who took a more academic approach, said Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.

Also, on the ride back from the Sistine Chapel to the Santa Marta residence, he declined the papal car that had been prepared for him and instead took the bus with other cardinals, Lombardi said.

In Buenos Aires, Francis chose to live in an apartment rather than the archbishop’s palace, passed on a chauffeured limousine, took the bus to work and cooked his own meals.

As a Jesuit, Francis is a member of the Society of Jesus, one of the biggest and most important orders in the church.

Jesuits are recognized for their exceptional educational institutions and focus on social justice. They have a reputation for avoiding positions of power.

Vatican City (CNN) — Pope Francis on Thursday emphasized church advancement in his first Mass with the cardinals who elected him as pontiff a day earlier.

With solemnity, he delivered a homily about moving the Catholic Church forward to the cardinal electors, who were dressed in light yellow robes. Altar servers burned incense in the Sistine Chapel, the setting for the Mass.

francis-mass-picHe didn’t appear to use a script and kept the sermon short, calling on the cardinals to have courage.

“When we don’t walk, we are stuck. When we don’t build on the rock, what happens? It’s what happens to children when they build a sand castle and it all then falls down,” the new pontiff said.

“When we walk without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess without the cross, we are not disciples of Christ. We are mundane,” he said. “We are all but disciples of our Lord.

“I would like for all of us, after these days of grace, that we find courage to walk in the presence of God … and to build the church with the blood of Christ,” he continued. “Only this way will the church move forward.”

When Jorge Bergoglio stepped onto the balcony at the Vatican on Wednesday evening to reveal himself as the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, he made history as the first non-European pope of the modern era, the first from Latin America, the first Jesuit and the first to assume the name Francis.

Thursday has been low-key by comparison.

Francis began the day by praying at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, a place of special significance for the Jesuits.

His next public appearance is likely to be Sunday. The new pontiff will “very probably” celebrate Mass at St. Peter’s and then deliver the traditional Angelus blessing, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman.

But it won’t be until Tuesday that Francis will be formally installed as pope.

That’s by design. The day coincides with the Feast of St. Joseph, the patron saint of Italy.

Already a picture is emerging of a humble man who shies away from the trappings of his new status and is devoted to his pastoral duties.

As pope, Francis will have plenty to deal with. He takes the helm of a Roman Catholic Church that has been rocked in recent years by sex abuse by priests, and claims of corruption and infighting among the church hierarchy.

Reflecting the urgency of those concerns, a group representing the alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests has written an open letter to Pope Francis requesting a meeting.

“Your predecessor met only a few times with a few carefully chosen victims in tightly choreographed settings, as he visited nations where this crisis had reached a fever pitch,” the letter from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests states.

“We write today seeking a different kind of meeting — one in which our respective organizations — yours, huge and struggling, and ours, small and struggling — can begin to work together to safeguard children across the globe.”

Pope Francis called Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on the phone Wednesday night, and will visit him at Castel Gandolfo at some point soon, but not in the next couple of days, Lombardi said.

The new pontiff will meet with all the cardinals, not just those who were eligible to vote for him, on Friday and will hold an audience with the media on Saturday, Lombardi said.

Conservative reformer

The 76-year-old, who served as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, is the first pope to take the name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, revered among Catholics for his work with the poor.

The pontiff is considered a straight shooter who calls things as he sees them, and a follower of the church’s most social conservative wing.

As a cardinal, he clashed with the government of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner over his opposition to gay marriage and free distribution of contraceptives.

He was runner-up in the 2005 papal conclave, behind then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The new pope brings together the first and the developing worlds. Latin America is home to 480 million Catholics.

By choosing him, the cardinals sent a strong message about where the future of the church may lie.

Francis’ first public appearance as pope — when he appealed for the crowds to pray for him before he gave a blessing — suggested a “different pastoral style” in comparison with the more academic approach of Benedict, said Lombardi.

Francis is someone who has had “a day-to-day link with the population and ordinary people” during his many years at the head of a large diocese in Buenos Aires, he said.

He also sought to dampen concerns prompted by media reports that the new pope has only one lung.

Although Francis had part of one lung removed when he was a young man, the whole lung was not removed and the new pope is in good health, Lombardi said.

CNN iReporter Cesar Sotolongo in Lima, Peru, said the election of a Latin American pope, particularly from the Jesuit order, marked “a new chapter” for the Catholic Church.

Originally from Florida, Sotolongo also has his own advice for Francis: “The pope should shape the church with what he has been doing during his career (as an example),” he said. “Stay in contact with the people, communicate clearly, promote the unification of faith and … represent the word of Jesus.”

A Jesuit pope

Born in Buenos Aires to an Italian immigrant father, Francis is known for his simplicity.

Details given by Lombardi on Thursday of Francis’ first hours as pope reinforce that impression — one which may go down well with his global flock, many of whom live in poverty or are feeling the squeeze of austerity.

Francis stood, rather than sitting on a throne, to receive the oath of allegiance from his fellow cardinals after his election, and for his appearance on the balcony wore just a white cassock and a simple cross, eschewing gold or jewels, Lombardi said.

Also, on the ride back from the Sistine Chapel to the Santa Marta residence, he declined the papal car that had been prepared for him and instead took the bus with other cardinals, Lombardi said.

And Francis thanked the other cardinals at dinner, joking, “May God forgive you for what you have done,” Lombardi said.

Francis will remove the seals from the official papal apartments Thursday but will not move in until renovations are complete, he added. The new pontiff will live in a suite at the Santa Marta residence until the papal apartments are ready.

Back in Buenos Aires, Francis chose to live in an apartment rather than the archbishop’s palace, passed on a chauffeured limousine, took the bus to work and cooked his own meals.

He was ordained by the Jesuits in 1969. He became co-archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1997 and sole archbishop of that city one year later.

He was made a cardinal in 2001 and served as president of the Argentine bishops conference from 2005 to 2011.

As a Jesuit, Francis is a member of the Society of Jesus, one of the biggest and most important orders in the church.

Jesuits are recognized for their exceptional educational institutions and focus on social justice.

“Jesuits are characterized by their service to the church … but trying to avoid positions of power,” said Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, who is also a Jesuit. “I am absolutely convinced that we have a pope who wants to serve.

“His election was the election of a rejection of power.”

‘Most stunning’ choice of name

His selection of the name of Pope Francis is “the most stunning” choice and “precedent shattering,” CNN Vatican analyst John Allen said. “The new pope is sending a signal that this will not be business as usual.”

The name symbolizes “poverty, humility, simplicity and rebuilding the Catholic Church,” Allen said.

Miguel Diaz, a former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, agreed, calling the new pontiff’s choice of names “very significant.”

“Francis of Assisi is the saint who opted for the little ones in God’s kingdom,” he said. “This man represents a change and could potentially be a great gift for leadership, servant leadership, for all of us within the church and society.”

It is something the Catholic Church says it desperately needs.

“If you look back over the past years — the crisis of abuse, the scandals here at the Vatican, financial mismanagement, questions about the leaks and everything — when you step back from it all, every crisis we faced ultimately is a crisis of holiness that we’ve missed the calling,” said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, the Vatican’s deputy spokesman.

“We’ve moved far away from what we’re supposed to be.”

World reacts

Word of the election of Pope Francis, who was not considered a frontrunner among analysts, quickly spread around the globe, with everyone from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to U.S. President Barack Obama offering congratulations.

“As the first pope from the Americas, his selection also speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world, and alongside millions of Hispanic Americans, those of us in the United States share the joy of this historic day,” Obama said.

Ban said the new pope shares common goals with the United Nations, from the promotion of peace to social justice. “We also share the conviction that we can only resolve the interconnected challenges of today’s world through dialogue,” he said.

There is likely to be no shortage of invitations for Pope Francis to travel to the four corners of the globe in the pursuit of such goals.

Syria’s Patriarch Gregory III Laham of Antioch, who heads the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, on Thursday invited Francis to visit Syria, Jerusalem and Lebanon for peace and reconciliation, according to Syria’s official news agency.

Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also urged him to visit the Middle East.

“He’ll be a welcome guest in the Holy Land, as a man of inspiration that can add to the attempt to bring peace in a stormy area,” said Peres.

Nowhere was the reaction to Francis’ selection as pope more heartfelt than in Latin America.

“I am truly still very surprised … not just that a Latino pope came out, but that he is an Argentinian from Buenos Aires,” the Rev. Eduardo Mangiarotti, an Argentine priest, told CNN en Español.

It’s a “huge event” not only for the church in Latin America but worldwide, he said.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, greeted the selection with “extraordinary joy.”

“I have been hoping that we would move into the Southern Hemisphere, and especially I think many of us had hoped … we would have a pope who would come from Latin America,” he said.

“One-half of the Catholics in the world are from Latin America, so this is a way the cardinals have very graciously acknowledged that.”

Filipino priest and CNN iReporter Joel Camaya was among the tens of thousands who witnessed history Wednesday night in St. Peter’s Square, as Francis emerged on the balcony.

“The multitude, from all parts of the world, were ecstatic to be in the square for this beautiful occasion,” he said. “This was one event that left me teary-eyed and thanking God for making me a Catholic.”

VATICAN CITY (KTLA) — Catholics around the world, and especially in Latin America, are celebrating the selection of the new pope.

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, of Argentina, is now Pope Francisco, or Pope Francis.

He is the first pope from outside Europe in more than a millennium, and the first ever pope from the Americas.

Massive crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square to see history made, some waving Argentine flags. Forty-six percent of the Catholic church is in Latin America.

The new spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide is described as down to earth, a little camera shy and devoted to serving the poor.

He is known for taking public transit back in Argentina and spurning titles like “monsignor” and “your excellency.”

A total of 115 cardinals from around the world formed the secretive conclave to elect the successor to Benedict XVI.

After the fifth ballot, white smoke billowed from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel, the traditional signal to the world that a new pope has been chosen.

But the Vatican used modern technology to spread the word as well.

It sent a tweet from the papal account, @Pontifex, saying: “HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM.”

The new pope humbly asked the assembled crowd to pray for him before blessing them, expressing his eagerness to get to work.

–Lynette Romero, KTLA News

VATICAN CITY — In electing Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as pope, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church recognized a shift in the church’s center of gravity while maintaining its conservative theology.

pope-francisThe new Pope Francis is the first ever from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium. The 266th pontiff in the church’s history immediately confronts daunting challenges.

His flock is growing rapidly in some parts of the globe but is disenchanted and shrinking elsewhere.

The Vatican bureaucracy is widely thought to need sweeping reform and the church is still struggling with the legacy of its sex abuse scandal.

His election represented a gentle earthquake for an institution steeped in tradition: a major departure geographically, yet a continuation theologically with his conservative predecessors, the late John Paul II and Benedict XVI, whose surprise resignation last month threw the church into uncertainty.

The cardinals who elected Bergoglio, 76, after just 24 hours of voting chose a man known for his humbleness.

The son of Italian immigrants – a reassurance for those worried that the church might abandon its European roots completely – he has served since 1998 as archbishop of Buenos Aires, where he cultivated a reputation for competent administration, a willingness to speak out on controversial national issues and an austere lifestyle belying his prestigious position.

His first act was to pick a papal name that analysts say reflects the intended focus of his reign: an emphasis on the humility and concern for the poor and marginalized exemplified by St. Francis of Assisi.

Francis was also the name of a prominent 16th century Jesuit, the highly intellectual order to which Bergoglio himself belongs, who preached the gospel in Asia.

The new pope is also seen as an outsider who may be able to usher in the internal reform and cleanup that critics say the Vatican desperately needs after years of factionalism and scandal. But some questioned whether his age and personality would make him a transitional figure.

Bergoglio’s self-effacing manner seemed evident from the moment of his unveiling, when he stepped from behind red velvet curtains onto the central balcony of imposing St. Peter’s Basilica about 8 p.m. He waved with one hand to the crowd of tens of thousands below in St. Peter’s Square, looking almost embarrassed as a small smile played on his bespectacled face.

“You know that the duty of the conclave was to give Rome a bishop,” he told the crowd, referring to the pontiff’s traditional position as bishop of Rome. “It seems that my brother cardinals picked him from almost the ends of the Earth. But here we are! I thank you for the warm welcome.”

His voice quavered slightly, perhaps from the sense of moment, perhaps from age and perhaps from having lost a lung to a respiratory illness when he was in his 20s.

He prayed for Benedict, recited the Lord’s Prayer and exhorted his listeners to foster love, trust and unity.

Cheers and jubilant shouts of “Viva Papa!” rose from the crowd. Many had waited for hours in the cold and rain to watch for the white smoke billowing from the Sistine Chapel, the signal of a conclusive vote inside, and to see who would appear on the balcony following the tradition Latin announcement of “Habemus papam” – “We have a pope.”

“To have a guide again after this strange period is wonderful,” said Salvatore Califano, 42, an Italian navy official. “From his speech he felt like a normal person, and that really touched me.”

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis, the first non-European pontiff of the modern era, revealed himself to the world from a balcony at the Vatican on Wednesday.

Jorge Bergoglio, who served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, took the name Francis shortly after being elected by cardinals in what was apparently the fifth round of voting on the second day of the conclave.

“As you know, the duty of the conclave was to appoint a bishop of Rome,” Francis told a cheering crowd of thousands packed into St. Peter’s Square.

“It seems to me that my brother cardinals have chosen one who is from faraway. … Here I am. I would like to thank you for your embrace.”

Bergoglio, 76, is considered a straight-shooter who calls things as he sees them, and a follower of the church’s most conservative wing.