Vatican City, March 17 - Pope Francis on Sunday gave his first Angelus address in St Peter's Square before over 150,000 people who turned out to greet the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was elevated to the papacy on Wednesday. "Buon giorno (good afternoon)," he told the crowd as he appeared from a window of the papal apartment, evoking cheers and laughs for a humble greeting that recalled his "buona sera (good evening)" upon emerging from the conclave and introducing himself to the people of Rome. Earlier in the day, the 76-year-old was hounded by adoring faithful as he went to celebrate mass inside the Church of Saint Anne, his local parish church inside the Vatican walls. In stark contrast to his predecessor Benedict XVI, he shook hands with the crowd, exchanged greetings and even told jokes in his first opportunity to meet with the public since his elevation to the throne of St Peter. As onlookers gathered to hear his Angelus, the square turned into a sea of faces and flags, many from Argentina and Latin America in honor of history's first Latin American pontiff, and some from countries as far afield as Pakistan and Syria. Banners stretched across Bernini's colonades bore slogans such as "Bergoglio, il nostro orgoglio (Bergoglio, our pride) to "Communion and Liberation", the evangelical lay-Catholic group with close ties to Francis. Shouts of 'Viva il Papa!' were like bookends to the beginning and end of his Sunday address, which centered on the parable of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery, with themes of God's mercy and compassion to forgive. "He never tires of forgiving, but we often tire of asking for it," said Francis. With an irresistable grin, the first Jesuit pope is quickly winning the hearts and minds of Italians and especially Romans - his local congregation as the bishop of Rome - thanks to a penchant for clear, straightforward speech, humorous anecdotes and grandfatherly charm. "In the past few days I read a book about mercy by (German) Cardinal Walter Kasper, quite a theologian, very talented. That book was very good for me, but don't think I'm doing publicity for the books of the cardinals," he joked. He went on to recall meeting once with an old woman, who he affectionately called a "grandma" who needed prayer. When he asked her if she knew that God forgives, she told him she was absolutely sure that he did. "How can you be so certain? I asked. Did you study at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome?" said Francis to a laughing audience. "No, she said. It's because if God did not forgive, the world could not exist". In an address usually devoted to commenting on world affairs, Francis, whose parents immigrated to Argentina from Piedmont, instead opted to talk about his Italian roots and divulge more details about his papal name. "I chose the name of the patron saint of Italy, Francis of Assisi, to strengthen my spiritual link with this land where as you know my family origins come from," he said, as numerous Romans nodded in approval and replied, "bravo, bravo". It was a master stroke from a man who has been enchanting his Roman flock virtually since the moment he was named pope on Wednesday evening, when as a first order of business he asked the people beneath the balcony of St Peter's Basilica to first pray for him before he issued his traditional blessing to the people. That same grace was on show Sunday. "Thank you for your welcome, and for your prayers. Pray for me," he said before waving goodbye. "Have a happy Sunday. And a good lunch".
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di Angelo Biscardi