VATICAN CITY: In his first public Mass Thursday, Pope Francis gave an early indication of what changes he would bring to the Catholic Church, warning it risked becoming just another charitable group if it forgot its roots in the Gospels of Christ.
In a heartfelt, simple homily, the Argentinian pope laid out a clear moral path for the 1.2-billion-member church, which is beset by scandals, intrigue and strife.
Addressing cardinals in the frescoed Sistine Chapel the day after his election there, the former Jorge Bergoglio said the church should be more focused on the Gospels of Jesus Christ.
“We can walk all we want, we can build many things, but if we don’t proclaim Jesus Christ, something is wrong. We would become a compassionate NGO and not a church which is the bride of Christ,” he said, speaking in Italian without notes.
Francis’ inaugural Mass will be held Tuesday.
The first non-European Pope in 1,300 years, Bergoglio’s initial steps suggest he will bring a new style to the papacy, favoring humility and simplicity over pomp, grandeur and ambition among its top officials.
Whereas his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, delivered his first homily in Latin, laying out his broad vision for the church, Francis adopted the tone of parish priest, focusing on faith.
“When we walk without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we proclaim Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly,” he told the massed cardinals clad in golden vestments.
“We may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, all of this, but we are not disciples of the Lord,” he added.
Earlier, Francis had quietly slipped out of the Vatican to pray for guidance at one of Rome’s great basilicas before returning briefly to a Rome hostel, where he had left his bags before entering the secret conclave Tuesday.
The new pontiff has postponed for a few days a trip to the papal summer retreat south of Rome, to meet Benedict, who last month became the first pontiff in 600 years to step down, saying that at 85 he was too frail to lead the troubled church.
Francis is himself 76; older than many other contenders for the papacy and his age was one of several big surprises about the selection of the Argentine cardinal.
Bergoglio is the first Jesuit Pope, an order traditionally dedicated to serving the papacy, and the first to take the name Francis in honor of the 13th-century Italian saint from Assisi who spurned wealth to pursue a life of poverty.
No Vatican watchers had expected the conservative Argentinian to be elected, and some of the background to the surprising vote began trickling out Thursday. French Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard told reporters: “We were looking for a pope who was spiritual, a shepherd. I think with Cardinal Bergoglio, we have this kind of person. He is also a man of great intellectual character who I believe is also a man of governance.”
Despite never having been tipped for success, Austria Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn said the Argentinian was clearly popular amongst the so-called princes of the church from the start.
“Cardinal Bergoglio wouldn’t have become pope in the fifth ballot, if he had not been a really strong contender for the papacy from the beginning,” he said.
Morale among the faithful has been hit by a widespread child sex abuse scandal and infighting in the church government, or Curia, which many prelates believe needs radical reform.
Francis is seen as a church leader with the common touch and communications skills, in sharp contrast to Benedict’s aloof intellectual nature.