VATICAN CITY — He stopped to pay his hotel bill a day after becoming pope. He wore black shoes and an ordinary wristwatch with a thick black band to his first Mass as pontiff. He rode in a minivan to dinner with the cardinals who elected him, affectionately telling them, “May God forgive you for what you’ve done.”
In an ancient institution where style often translates into substance, Francis, in his first 24 hours as pope, has shifted the tone of the papacy. Whereas Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, was a theologian who favored red loafers, ermine-lined cloaks and erudite homilies, reviving papal fashions from centuries past, Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, appeared Thursday to be sending a message of humility.
“This choice indicates above all a style for the church: simplicity, poverty, rigor,” said the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor of La Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit journal.
Francis, who chose the name of a medieval patron saint of Italy who came from a wealthy family and took a vow of poverty, is the first pope to come from the Jesuit order, whose members take a vow of poverty and have traditionally shunned careerism, instead focusing on service, education and engaging with the world.
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On his first morning as pope, Francis slipped out of the Vatican to pray at a shrine to the Virgin Mary in Santa Maria Maggiore, a Roman basilica. He also prayed in a side chapel where St. Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Jesuits, celebrated his first Christmas Mass.
On Thursday, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, archbishop of Bordeaux, France, recalled how, soon after Francis greeted the faithful from the loggia at St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time as pope, he left with the cardinals to return to their residence during the conclave.
“When he left to go back with us to Santa Marta, the staff moved us aside, because usually the pope descends alone in the elevator,” Ricard said.
“And he said, ‘No no, no, no, we can all get in.’ And so we all got into the elevator, with the pope.
“And when we got to the bottom, he said, ‘No, I am coming with you,’ and he got in the bus with us, and the papal car left empty,” he added. “I think this is the style of our new pope.”
At a Mass later Thursday in the Sistine Chapel, Francis delivered a short but strong homily in plain Italian to the men who elected him, arguing against stagnancy by saying that “our life is a journey, and if we stop, things don’t go well.”
He also warned: “When you don’t build on stone, what happens becomes like what happens to children on the beach when they build sand castles. Everything falls down.”
Vatican watchers had been waiting to see whether the 266th pope would deliver his homily in Latin, consistent with tradition, or in Italian, which would suggest a modesty consistent with the face he has put forward so far.
On his way back to the Vatican from the shrine to the Virgin Mary, Francis stopped at the clerical residence in Rome where he had stayed before the conclave to collect his luggage and to pay his bill. But that wasn’t the only reason he made the detour. “He wanted to thank the personnel, people who work in this house,” said the Rev. Pawel Rytel-Andrianek, a guest at the residence. “He greeted them one by one, no rush, the whole staff, one by one.”
Francis then paid his bill “to set a good example,” Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said.
For an audience he will hold with cardinals Friday, the pope told them to wear plain black cassocks, and not red with white lace surplices.
Francis comes from Argentina, which was hit by a crippling sovereign debt crisis in 2001 from which it has not fully recovered.
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, France, recalled that he had asked Bergoglio why he was not going to Rome last December when Benedict was naming more cardinals.
“He told me that right now the situation in Argentina was too terrible; he couldn’t leave Argentina,” Barbarin said.
For Italians, the new pope, who was born in Argentina to parents from the northern Italian region of Piedmont, may quickly become the most beloved Argentine since Diego Maradona, who played for the Napoli soccer club in the 1980s.
Already, they are praising his warmth and common touch.
“He almost brought me to tears when he asked to be blessed by us, before blessing us,” said Fabrizio Venanzoni, 21, an engineering student, as he stood in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday.
“Then he opened his speech with two simple words, ‘Buona sera,’” or ‘Good evening,’” Venanzoni added. “It made me feel like he is one of us, he is close to simple people.”
Material from The Associated Press and The Washington Post is included in this report.