Pope Francis meets with cardinals ahead of inauguration

Posted at 10:23 AM, Mar 15, 2013
and last updated 2013-03-15 10:23:09-04
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

By Laura Smith-Spark, Richard Allen Greene and Ben Brumfield

VATICAN CITY (CNN) — After the pomp and activities surrounding his election as pontiff, Pope Francis may get his first quiet day Friday when he meets with familiar faces — all the cardinals.

The meeting in the late morning is the only event on his calendar for the day.

He can likely use some rest before Tuesday, when St. Peter’s Square will again bustle with followers and admirers for the official Mass to inaugurate him as the Bishop of Rome.

It is fitting that the church picked the day to anoint Francis as the Holy Father of the Catholic Church. 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.

Anyone is allowed to attend, no reservation required. The square is expected to fill to capacity again with as many as 100,000 onlookers.

Friday’s gathering will give 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.

Though informal, the meeting will go out live over Vatican TV.

A day later, Francis will give an audience to the press. He will likely hold Mass on Sunday then deliver the traditional Angelus, one of the most common Catholic prayers, said Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman.

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

Pope Francis set the tone for his vision of the Church’s future in his first Mass on Thursday with the cardinals who participated in the conclave.

With solemnity, he delivered a short, unscripted 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.

He called for a return to humble Christian values in guiding the Church.

“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,” the pope continued. “Only this way will the church move forward.”

During the service, the cardinals prayed for the new pope and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI so “that he may serve the Church while hidden to the world, in a life dedicated to prayer and meditation,” the Vatican said.

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.

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.

Inheriting a legacy

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 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.”

Before the conclave, the group 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 have an open ear for them.

Pope Francis was on neither list.

Conservative reformer

The 76-year-old leader, 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 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.

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

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.

A Jesuit pope

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.

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.

 –CNN’s Richard Allen Greene and Hada Messia reported from Vatican City, Laura Smith-Spark wrote and reported in London, and Ben Brumfield, Chelsea J. Carter and Ed Payne wrote and reported from Atlanta.