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News updated at 3:46 PM IST

St Peter's fills for Pope Francis installation

Vatican City, Mar 19, 2013, (AP) : 14:43 IST
Pope Francis thrilled tens of thousands of people today gathered for his installation Mass, taking a long round-about through St Peter's Square and getting out of his jeep to bless a disabled man in a wheelchair in the crowd.

The blue and white flags from Francis' native Argentina fluttered above the crowd that Italian media estimate could reach 1 million. Civil protection crews closed the main streets leading to the square to traffic and set up barricades for nearly two kilometres along the route to try to control the masses.

For nearly a half-hour, Francis toured the square in an open-air jeep, waving and occasionally kissing babies handed up to him as if he had been doing this for years. At one point, as he neared a group of people in wheelchairs, he signalled for the jeep to stop, hopped off, and went to bless a man held up to the barricade by an aide.

The installation Mass is a simpler affair than the 2005 ceremony that launched Pope Benedict XVI's papacy, in keeping with Francis' sober style, but it is still grand enough to draw 132 official delegations and religious leaders from around the world.

Among the VIPs is the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Bartholomew I, who will become the first patriarch from the Istanbul-based church to attend a papal investiture since the two branches of Christianity split nearly 1,000 years ago. His presence underscores the broad hopes for ecumenical and interfaith dialogue in this new papacy.

But it is Francis' history of living with the poor and working for them while archbishop of Buenos Aires that seems to have resonated with ordinary Catholics who say they are hopeful that Francis can inspire a new generation of faithful who have fallen away from the church.

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