Vatican City

Pope Francis blesses world press

Pontiff strikes positive note as pressing questions await

Pope Francis blesses world press

Vatican City, March 16 - Pope Francis overcame his timid and meek demeanor on Sunday at a special meeting with the world's press still in Vatican City since the former archbishop of Buenos Aires was elevted to the throne of St Peter on Wednesday to lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. "You've had a lot of work, eh,?" a grinning Francis told journalists inside the Paul VI Hall. His message was succinct and soft-spoken, as Vatican watchers are coming to recognize as the style of the 76-year-old prelate who overcame losing much of his lung when he was still a young man. "A special thanks to your valuable service in recent days," he said before moving on to the theme of "the Church walking towards Christ," similar to his homily inside the Sistine Chapel with the College of Cardinals the day after he was named pontiff. "Jesus Christ is at the center. Without him, St Peter and his successors have no reason to exist". To the surprise of some, his message was exclusively in Italian, apart from a closing greeting in his native Spanish. The Vatican says he also speaks English, French and German. Several times throughout his address, the pontiff was interrupted by rounds of applause. Some journalists yelled in Italian "viva Francesco" or "long live Francis". Others held up national flags, even their small children to get a glimpse. In a more intimate moment, he lowered his script, looked out into the crowd of thousands, and said, "let me tell you a story" as he proceeded to recall the moments leading up to his election in the final moments of the conclave. "I had next to me (Brazilian Cardinal) Claudio Hummes, a great friend. When things were getting a little dangerous, he comforted me," said a Francis, referring lightheartedly to the lead-up to becoming history's first Latin American and Jesuit pope. "When more than two thirds of the votes were in my name, the moment when the traditional applause came, he hugged me, he kissed me, and he said: don't forget the poor. "That word entered right here," said Francis, touching his head. "The poor, the poor". "Then, immediately, with regard to the poor, I thought about Francis of Assisi," he said, explaining the choice of his papal name. "I want a poor Church, a Church for the poor," he added, as the audience erupted with applause. He then joked about other names cardinals suggested he take. "Some said Adrian, after Adrian VI, the great reformer, or perhaps Clement, to take revenge for Clement XIV's abolition of the Jesuits". After blessing the audience, Francis personally greeted a number of veteran Vatican correspondents, including ANSA's own Giovanna Chirri, who received a cheer for her now-famous scoop of Benedict XVI announcing his abdication in Latin last month. Francis even patted - and perhaps blessed - a disability-assistance dog - unavoidable given his namesake, the patron saint of animals. It was a media tour de force for a man who knows he has to get off on the right foot with an international press still starved for answers to a number of pressing Church issues, ranging from the Vatican leaks scandal, to priest sex abuse and the troubled Vatican bank. Many Vatican analysts have wondered if such concerns were a factor behind his predecessor's decision to become the first pontiff in over 700 years to voluntarily abdicate from an otherwise lifetime term. But for at least one more day, those topics could wait. "I wish the best to you and your families, to each of your families," said Francis. "I cordially impart to all of you a blessing".

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