VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis knelt at the tomb of St. Peter and donned the symbols of papal power at a sumptuous inauguration on Tuesday, vowing to embrace the “poorest, the weakest” of humanity.
Nearly 200,000 pilgrims cheered Latin America’s first pontiff in St. Peter’s Square, waving flags from around the world as the newly elected pope promised that his would be a “lowly, concrete and faithful” papacy.
“He is a man of great warmth and closeness, like a friend you met to talk over coffee after a long time,” Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said.
In an address strongly influenced by the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, the saint he has chosen as his inspiration, he urged world economic and political leaders not to “allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world.”
His voice raised in emotion, the 76-year-old Francis said a pope must “embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important.”
“Amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope,” said the Argentinian, after touring a sun-drenched St. Peter’s Square in an open-top car to cries of “Long live the pope!”
The Vatican said there were between 150,000 and 200,000 people present at the ceremony.
Besides Chinchilla, Latin America was heavily represented at the inauguration of the first non-European pope in nearly 1,300 years, with the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Paraguay all in attendance.