New pope slips out of Vatican for prayer visit

He talked to us like father

Pope Francis, barely 12 hours after his election, quietly left the Vatican early on Thursday to pray for guidance as he looks to usher a Roman Catholic Church mired in intrigue and scandal into a new age of simplicity and humility.

Francis, the Argentinian cardinal who has become the first pope born outside Europe in 1,300 years, went to Rome’s 5th-century Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore; there he prayed before a famed icon of Mary, the mother of Jesus, which is known as the Salus Populi Romani, or Protectress of the Roman People.

“He spoke to us cordially, like a father,” said Father Ludovico Melo, a priest who prayed with the new pontiff. “We were given 10 minutes' advance notice that the pope was coming.”
The first leader of the church to come from the Americas, home to nearly half the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, Francis also takes the title of bishop of Rome. In his first words to the crowd in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday evening he made clear that he would take that part of his role seriously and made good on the promise by visiting one of the Italian capital's most important churches.

From there, he asked the driver to go to a Rome residence for priests so that he could pick up bags he left there before he moved to a guesthouse inside the Vatican.

Later on Thursday he was to go to the papal summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, to meet Emeritus Pope Benedict, the first pontiff in 600 years to step down, saying that at 85 he was too frail to tackle all the problems of the Church. Francis is, at 76, older than many other contenders for the papacy. A cartoon in Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper showed the new pope telling the crowd on Wednesday about his surprise at being elected and then, pointing to aides, he says: “But that’s nothing compared to the surprises in store for them.”

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