Rome

Francis starts first full day as pope

New pontiff prays at Rome's Santa Maria Maggiore

Francis starts first full day as pope

Rome, March 13 - Pope Francis started his first full days as the head of the Catholic Church on Thursday with a visit to Rome's Santa Maria Maggiore (St Mary Major) Basilica. The Argentine pontiff, who was elected the first South American pope on Wednesday after just five votes at the conclave, prayed before a famous icon of the Virgin Mary called the Salus Populi Romani (Protectress of the Roman People). Father Ludovico Melo, a priest who prayed with the pope, said Francis spent around 30 minutes in St Mary Major, a papal basilica that is sometimes used by pontiffs. Francis also sang the Salve Regina hymn and spoke to people in the church to confess. "Mercy, mercy, mercy," the pope said, according to Melo. "You are confessors so be merciful with the souls. They need it". After the visit the new pope went to a residence in central Rome where he had been staying before the conclave to collect his things. Francis is set to travel to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome later on Thursday to meet his predecessor Benedict XVI, according to the Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, one of the cardinals who took part in the conclave. Francis is expected to receive cardinals, both electors who participated in the conclave and those who did not, on Friday. He will lead his first Angelus as pope in St Peter's Square on Sunday and the inaugural mass of his pontificate will take place on Tuesday. Francis was elected to lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics after Benedict stepped down last month saying he no longer had the mental and physical strength to continue in a role that is usually for life.

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