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New Pope tests his security detail by wading into crowd

Pope Francis greets faithful from a side gate of the Vatican yesterday. Photo: AP/L’Osservatore Romano

Pope Francis greets faithful from a side gate of the Vatican yesterday. Photo: AP/L’Osservatore Romano

Pope Francis speaks with a priest friend who surprised him by travelling from Latin America to attend his Mass at Santa Anna church inside the Vatican yesterday. The Pope recognised the priest in the crowd when he went outside to greet the people and invited him to participate in the Mass. Photo: Reuters/Osservatore RomanoPope Francis speaks with a priest friend who surprised him by travelling from Latin America to attend his Mass at Santa Anna church inside the Vatican yesterday. The Pope recognised the priest in the crowd when he went outside to greet the people and invited him to participate in the Mass. Photo: Reuters/Osservatore Romano

Francis I, the newly elected Pope from Argentina, gave his security detail a taste of his new papal style by making an impromptu appearance before the public from a side gate of the Vatican, startling passers-by and prompting cheers, before delivering a six-minute homily – brief by Church standards – at the Vatican’s tiny parish church.

Before he entered St Anna’s church to celebrate Mass, he heartily shook hands with parishioners and kissed babies.

In his homily, Pope Francis said the core message of God is “that of mercy”.

He said God has an unfathomable capacity to pardon and noted that people are often harder on each other than God was towards sinners.

After Mass, Francis put his security detail to the test as he waded into the street just outside St Anna’s Gate and waved to a crowd of hundreds kept behind barriers across the street. He then greeted the Vatican parishioners one by one.

One young man patted the Pope on the back – an indication of the informality that has been evident from the first moment of his papacy.

“Francesco! Francesco!” children shouted his name in Italian from the street.

As he patted one little boy on the head, he asked: “Are you a good boy?” and the child nodded.

“Are you sure?” the Pope quipped.

As the traffic light at the intersection turned green, Pope Francis stepped up to the crowd, grasping outstretched hands.

The atmosphere was so casual that several people even gripped him on the shoulder. A few minutes later as the traffic light turned red, the Pope ducked back inside the Vatican’s boundaries to dash upstairs for the window appearance from the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace.

The studio window was opened for the first time since Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, gave his last window blessing on Sunday, February 24.

Four days later, Pope Benedict went into retirement, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years.

Pope Francis, the first pontiff from Latin America, was elected on March 13. He has been staying in a hotel on the Vatican’s premises until the papal apartment in the palace is ready.

Hundreds of extra traffic police were deployed yesterday morning to control crowds and vehicles, for it was also the day of Rome’s annual marathon.

Bus routes were rerouted and many streets were closed off in an attempt to channel the curious and faithful up the main boulevard from the Tiber river to St Peter’s Square.

Giant video screens were set up so the huge crowd could get a close look at Pope Francis and dozens of medical teams were on hand for any emergencies.

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