Vatican City

Pope stokes charm offensive at inauguration

Francis blesses one million onlookers, kisses babies

Pope stokes charm offensive at inauguration

Vatican City, March 19 - While the elaborate ceremony to inaugurate Pope Francis drew an array of the world's clergy, heads of state and powerful delegations, it was the moments leading up to his enthronement in St Peter's Square that the roughly one million people who turned out Tuesday will likely remember the most. Cruising through the crowd in his open-air popemobile, Francis evoked cheers from flag-waving faithful from the four corners of the earth. "We can see the new face of the Church in this man," said Sheeba Sebastian, a nun from Kerala, India. "We expect great things from him. He relates to the people". With a beguiling grin and a visible eagerness to mix with the people, the Argentine pope's first week on the job has been described as a charm offensive, from blessing patients at a Rome hospital two days after his election, to embracing the faithful outside the Vatican on the morning of his first Angelus, all with a warmth and nonchalance that some have compared to the demeanor of the beloved Pope John XXIII. On Tuesday, as he rode through a square bedecked in flower arrangements and pontifical regalia, Francis stopped his driver several times, once to caress and kiss two children held out to him from the crowd. Breaking tradition, he also descended from the vehicle to bless a disabled person, similar to other episodes early in his pontificate that have made his security escort cringe. Kristin Mikkelsen and her five-week-old daughter Isabella looked on with glee as Francis, who succeeds Benedict XVI after his stunning abdication last month, blessed the faithful, smiled and seemed to mouth the word 'ciao'. "This is an indescribable moment. History is unfolding," said Mikkelsen, from Nebraska. "We have dragged this little baby everywhere. I'll be able to tell Isabella about this when she's older. We also brought her to Benedict's last general audience. What a blessing to be able to pray for Benedict and now Francis". As a first order of business in his homily, Francis paid tribute to his 85-year-old predecessor, who cited declining physical and mental strength when he announced he would abdicate, the first pontiff to do so voluntarily in 700 years. Francis pointed out that Tuesday is the retired pope's saint's day, as his birth name is Joseph Ratzinger. "It is a significant coincidence, and it is also the name-day of my venerable predecessor - we are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude," Francis said. Despite his reverence for Benedict, Francis' approachable style sticks out in stark contrast. And despite sharing most of the conservative German pontiff's doctrinal and social views - from gay marriage and abortion to contraception and clerical celibacy - some progressive Catholics say they have reason to believe this pope will be more adept at dealing with the currents of the 21st century. "He seems a lot more open and down-to-earth," said Molly Stemper, a 25-year-old backpacker from Milwaukee. "He might be a little more liberal. That appeals to me". With less than a week elapsed since Francis emerged from the conclave as pope, she admits that it's too early to tell what will mark his legacy. In the meantime, Stemper said he's undoubtedly popular. "My family has run a Catholic goods store in Wisconsin for over 100 years. We had a lot of Benedict stuff, but within 24 hours of Francis' election people were asking for his pictures, candles, etc. Merchandise sales really go up with a new pope," she said. "Francis is good for business".

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