Flanked by cardinals, the 266th pope knelt in prayer, then rose to offer incense. As church choirs chanted, Francis emerged from the basilica carrying a gold cross. He proceeded down a wide nave and behind a double-file line of the church’s cardinals, who were clad in golden robes and cream-colored miters.
As the new pope stepped into the sunshine, Argentines in the front row of the crowd waved their blue-and-white flags.
Representatives from 132 nations, including many heads of state, sat opposite 250 red-capped cardinals and purple-clad bishops who had taken their seats atop the basilica stairs. Leaders of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Jain faiths sat together in a section just below the steps.
In the crowd, one banner read “Buon giorno Francis,” a nod to the pope’s casual style and his initial greeting of “buona sera” from the basilica’s balcony on the night of his election Wednesday. Another banner read, “Go Francis and Fix the Church,” reflecting the hope that the Argentine would prove to be a reformer in substance as well as style.
Perhaps the most notable sign of the optimism accompanying the beginning of Francis’s pontificate was the presence of Bartholomew I, the Istanbul-based leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. He was the first Orthodox Christian patriarch to attend a papal inauguration since the great schism between Orthodoxy and Catholicism nearly a millennium ago.
Under a crimson canopy on the basilica steps, Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran — who announced Francis to the world with a call of “Habemus papam” on the balcony of St. Peter’s last week — draped the pontiff’s shoulders with the papal pallium. The woolen scarf recalls the sheep that Jesus carried on his shoulders and symbolizes the pope’s status as a good shepherd, responsible for a flock of 1.2 billion Catholics.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, then fitted the pope’s right hand with the golden Ring of the Fisherman, which contains Francis’s seal and reflects the story of Christ telling the fisherman Peter that he would now be a fisher of souls. Six cardinals, representing the different orders of the College of Cardinals, then pledged their obedience to the pope.
In his homily, Francis noted the “significant coincidence” that his inauguration fell on the feast of Saint Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary, and the name-day of “venerable predecessor” Joseph Ratzinger, now known as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Benedict last month became the first pope to resign in 600 years.