Pope Meets The Press

VATICAN CITY (Reuters/AP) - Pope Francis, giving his clearest indication yet that he wants a more austere Catholic Church, said on Saturday that it should be poor and remember that its mission is to serve the poor.

The pope made his comments in an audience with journalists, explaining why he chose to take the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, a symbol of peace, austerity, and poverty.

In other parts of his Italian address, much of it unscripted, he said that Catholics should remember that Jesus is the center of the Church and not the pope.

He called Francis "the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man," and added "How I would like a poor Church, and for the poor."

"Let me tell you a story," Francis said in a break from his prepared text during the special gathering for thousands of journalists, media workers, and guests.

Francis then described how he was comforted by his friend, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, as it appeared the voting was going his way and it seemed "a bit dangerous" that he would reach the two-thirds necessary to be elected.

"He hugged me. He kissed me. He said don't forget about the poor," Francis recalled. "And that's how in my heart came the name Francis of Assisi," who devoted his life to the poor, missionary outreach and caring for God's creation.

He said some people have asked why he took the name since it also could suggest references to other figures including the co-founder of the pope's Jesuit order, Francis Xavier. But he said his intention came to his heart as an inspiration immediately after the election. St. Francis of Assisi, the pope said, was "the man of the poor. The man of peace. The man who loved and cared for creation - and in this moment we don't have such a great relationship with the creator. The man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man who wanted a poor church."

He then joked that some other cardinals suggested other names: Hadrian VI, after a great church reformer - a reference to the need for the pope to clean up the Vatican's messy bureaucracy. Someone else suggested Clement XV, to counter Clement XIV who suppressed the Jesuit order.

Since his shock election on Wednesday, the pope has made clear that he would be introducing a different style to the papacy following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI last month.

On the night he was elected he shunned the papal limousine and travelled on a bus with other cardinals who had elected him.

The next day he returned to the Church-run hotel where he had been staying before the conclave and insisted on paying the bill.

The gathering in the Vatican begins a busy week for the pontiff that includes a planned March 23 visit with his predecessor at the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo - a historic encounter that brings together the new pope and the first pope to resign in six centuries.

Among the talks, the Vatican said Saturday, will be a session with the president of Francis' homeland Argentina on Monday, the eve of his formal installation as pontiff. The pope has sharply criticized Christina Fernandez over her support for liberal measures such as gay marriage and free contraceptives.

But the most closely watched appointment will be Francis' journey next Saturday to the hills south of Rome for lunch with Benedict XVI, who set in motion the stunning papal transition with his decision become the first pope in 600 years to step down. The meeting will be private, but every comment and gesture on the sidelines will be scrutinized for hints of how the unprecedented relationship will take shape between the emeritus pontiff and his successor.

Benedict has been out of the public eye since officially leaving the papacy on Feb. 28 and the Vatican dismissed any suggestion that the former pope helped shaped the discussions inside the secret gathering of cardinals that selected Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio on Wednesday as the first pontiff from Latin America. Vatican officials said there was no contact between the papal electors and Benedict before the conclave.

Benedict has promised to remain outside church affairs and dedicate himself to prayer and meditation. Pope Francis, however, has shown no reluctance to invoke Benedict's legacy and memory, in both an acknowledgment of the unusual dimensions of his papacy and also a message that he is comfortable with the situation and is now fully in charge.

World leaders and senior international envoys, including Vice President Joe Biden, are expected on Tuesday for the formal installation of Pope Francis. It offers the new pope his first opportunities to flex his diplomatic skills as head of Vatican city-state.

But the most potentially sensitive talks could come with Fernandez after years of open tensions over the then-archbishop's strong opposition to initiatives that led Argentina to become Latin American country to legalize gay marriage. He also opposed - but failed to stop - Fernandez from promoting free contraception and artificial insemination.

Francis is taking the helm of the 1.2 billion-member Church at a time of crisis over the worldwide sexual abuse scandal as well as scandals involving intrigue and alleged corruption in the Vatican bureaucracy.

He said the Church, like any institution, had "virtues and sins" and urged journalists to focus on "truth, goodness, and beauty" in the course of their work.

Under the simple slogan of "walk, build, confess" and speaking in a folksy Italian, he has urged Catholic leaders to shun worldly glories and lead a spiritual renewal in the Church that will reach "the ends of the earth."

He has warned them that the Church could end up becoming a "castle of sand" and just a charity with no spiritual foundation without action.

The railway worker's son said he and his cardinals were "elderly," but old age brought wisdom "like good wine that gets better over the years."

The Roman Catholic Church has been rocked in recent years by multiple scandals including thousands of cases of abuse of children by pedophile priests, stretching back decades, and intrigue in the Vatican bureaucracy.

Catholics are also abandoning churches in huge numbers in an increasingly secularized West.

A moderate conservative in Argentina where he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis is unlikely to change any of the fundamental tenets of Catholic doctrine but he could push for more social justice and a friendlier faith.

Vatican experts have said his priorities will also include reforming the administration of the Church and the Vatican bank, which is being investigated in a money laundering case.
The Vatican on Friday rejected claims that Pope Francis had failed to protect two Jesuit priests who were kidnapped and tortured by Argentina's military junta (1976-1983), and said he had in fact helped save lives.

The Vatican said the accusations were "defamatory" and "anti-clerical."

Bergoglio has been criticized by leftist Argentinians for his actions at a time when he was head of the country's Jesuits but not yet a bishop.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Bergoglio in fact "did a lot to protect people during the dictatorship" in which 30,000 died or disappeared.

Francis hailed his predecessor Benedict XVI's historic resignation as a "courageous and humble act."

Benedict, who last month became the first Roman Catholic pope to stand down in 700 years, "lit a flame in the depth of our hearts that will continue to burn," he said.
On Friday, he spoke to the cardinals in Italian from a prepared text but often added off-the-cuff comments in what has already become the hallmark of a style in sharp contrast to the stiffer, more formal Benedict.

Francis called the princes of the church "brother cardinals" instead of "lord cardinals" as Benedict did. Lombardi said Francis was still taking his meals with other prelates in the Vatican residence where the cardinals stayed during the conclave. "He just sits down at any table where there is a free spot, with a great sense of ease."

Another notable difference from the formal Benedict is the new pope's outgoing nature and sense of humor.

On Friday, he hugged cardinals, slapped them on the back, broke into animated laughter and blessed religious objects one cardinal pulled out of a plastic shopping bag.

In the afternoon, Francis visited Argentinian cardinal Jorge Mejia in a local Rome hospital, a day after the 90-year old suffered a heart attack.

He spent 20 minutes with Mejia before blessing the hands of the cardiologist treating him.
"It was amazing. He is really down-to-earth. He makes you feel at ease immediately," the doctor, Marco Miglionico, later told reporters.

He chatted warmly with staff and also blessed patients in intensive care before going to the hospital's chapel to pray.

The new pontiff's inauguration mass will take place on Tuesday - the Feast of St Joseph, the patron saint of the universal church.

He has called on the faithful in his native Argentina not to fly in for the mass but rather give the money the trip would have cost to charity. Nonetheless, heads of state from all over the world are expected to be present.

Francis fans have already begun snapping up rosary beads and postcards with his face on them at souvenir shops in the Vatican and New York's Bice restaurant has created a new dish - barbecued steak pasta - in homage to the pope's Argentinian and Italian roots.
His election is being seen as a nod to the Church's power in Latin America, which is home to 40 percent of the world's Catholics. In Europe, its traditional power base, it is ageing and declining.

Meanwhile, an Argentine silversmith has invited multitudes of well-wishers to hammer thousands of chisel marks onto a silver chalice he is designing as a gift for Pope Francis.
Juan Carlos Pallarols, who created the silver roses that adorn the tomb of Princess Diana, said the chalice was originally intended for an exhibition of his work at the Vatican galleries.

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