VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis urged princes, presidents, sheiks and thousands of ordinary people gathered for his installation Mass on Tuesday to protect the environment, the weakest and the poorest, mapping out a clear focus of his priorities as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
The Argentine native is the first pope from Latin America and the first named for the 13th-century friar St. Francis of Assisi, whose life's work was to care for nature, the poor and most disadvantaged. Echoing the gentleness for which St. Francis is known, the pope said a little bit of tenderness can "open up a horizon of hope."
The Vatican said between 150,000-200,000 people attended the Mass, held under bright blue skies after days of chilly rain and featuring flag-waving fans from around the world. In Buenos Aires, thousands of people packed the central Plaza di Mayo square to watch the celebration on giant TV screens and erupted in joy when Francis called them from Rome, his words broadcast to the crowd over loudspeakers.
"I want to ask a favor," Francis told them. "I want to ask you to walk together, and take care of one another. ... And don't forget that this bishop who is far away loves you very much. Pray for me."
Back in Rome, Francis was interrupted by applause several times during his homily, including when he spoke of the need to protect the environment, serve one another with love and not allow "omens of destruction," hatred, envy and pride to "defile our lives."
Francis said the role of the pope is to open his arms and protect all of humanity, but "especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison."