Pope tours square in open vehicle to greet crowd before mass

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Pope Francis toured a crammed St. Peter’s Square in an open white jeep on Tuesday to greet a huge crowd gathered for a Mass to inaugurate his papacy.The pope has already fanned hope for a renewal of the scandal-plagued Roman Catholic Church.In another sign of the informality that is already a mark of his papacy, Francis abandoned the bullet-proof pope mobile frequently used by his more formal predecessor Benedict, to tour the sprawling square in bright sunshine.

Crowds had been pouring into the square and surrounding streets since before dawn.Francis, who was elected by a secret conclave of cardinals last Wednesday, stopped frequently to greet the crowd and kiss babies held up to him. He got out of the vehicle at one point to bless a disabled man.The Mass, which was due to start at 9:30 a.m. will formally instal Francis as the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.The crowd may be the biggest in Rome since more than 1.5 million people came to the city for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II on May 1, 2011. “We are originally from Argentina and we wanted to be here today because Pope Francis is from our home town. We were so proud when he was elected. We travelled overnight so we could be here today,’’ said Cirigliano Valetin, 51, an electrician who works in Salerno in southern Italy. “He is a simple, humble person, he is not like the untouchable popes, he seems like someone normal people can reach out to,’’ said Valetin, who is originally from Buenos Aires.

Six sovereigns, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and other leaders as well as heads of many other faiths will be among the 130 delegations on the steps of the famous basilica.Among them will be Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew from Istanbul, whose presence is the first time the spiritual headof Orthodox Christians will attend a Roman pope’s inaugural Mass since the Great Schism between western and eastern Christianity in 1054.

The former Buenos Aires Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio has aroused enormous enthusiasm and interest in the Catholic world due to the modest way he has assumed a post that was modelled after a Renaissance monarchy and carries titles such as “Vicar of Jesus Christ’’ and “Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church’’.

In the six days since his election, he has referred to himself only as Bishop of Rome, the position from which his authority flows, and hinted he plans to reduce Vatican centralism and govern in consultation with other bishops.Vatican watchers expect him to send further signals of change by using a simpler liturgy than retired Pope Benedict, who preferred a more baroque style.

The ceremony has also been shortened to two hours after a three-hour service in 2005 when Benedict began his papacy.He will receive the visiting political leaders in the basilica after the Mass.

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