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The embraces of Francis

· Immersed in a crowd for the first time in St Peter's Square ·

On the sunny March morning on which his Petrine ministry began, Pope Francis had his first experience of total immersion in a crowd. For a few hours, on Tuesday, 19 March, StPeter's Square was the heart of the world: on the Solemnity of St Joseph, spouse of the Virgin Mary and Patron of the universal Church, the Pontiff celebrated his first solemn Eucharistic liturgy before a tide of human beings that swept from the parvis of the Vatican Basilica to the Via della Conciliazione. Men and women had come from every latitude to live a day that has already made history.

St Peter's tomb beneath the altar of the Confessio , and the Bernini hemicycle in the place where the Apostle suffered martyrdom, are the stage of a single rite which, lasting for about two hours, even during the solemnity of the Liturgy was distinguished by that simplicity which seems to be a typical feature of Francis' Pontificate.

A roar greeted the Pope when he appeared in the white convertible jeep to tour the various sections of the Square. He responded smiling and blessing while flags fluttered, especially the white and blue flags of Argentina, but also the colours of other nations to witness to the catholicity of the Church.

He was met by another roar when he had the popemobile stopped so as to get out and kiss on the forehead a disabled person lying on a stretcher. This man, who comes from Italy's Marches region and is assisted by UNITALSI, also met John Paul II personally in 1982.

After reentering the Basilica and being clothed in simple liturgical vestments in the Chapel of the Pietà, Pope Francis initiated the celebration. The Pontiff first descended to the tomb of St Peter in the Vatican Grottoes, where he paused, kneeling in prayer.

As was arranged for by his Predecessor Benedict XV, who  is celebrating his name day today, the imposition of the Pallium and the conferral of the ring took place prior to the Mass. It was  the Cardinal Proto-Dean Jean-Louis Tauran, who went up to the Chair and laid the pallium of white wool embroidered with red crosses on the shoulders of the new Pope, seated, with the mitre on his head; the prayer of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the first of the Cardinal Priests, followed. The Cardinal Dean  Angelo Sodano then presented the fisherman's ring to him.

The festive atmosphere then gave place to silent recollection. The first Reading – from the Book of the Prophet Samuel – was  proclaimed in English, and the Second, from the Letter of St Paul to the Romans, in Spanish. Psalm 89 [88] was sung by a boy, while the Gospel according to Matthew was intoned by the deacon in Greek. At the end, those present acclaimed him: “ ad multos annos , Holy Father”. And Pope Francis, having set down his mitre, stood up and with the Evangeliarium in his hand, after kissing it, blessed them in silence. He then read the Homily in Italian. It was punctuated by repeated bursts of applause from the assembly at the most significant passages.

After the Communion – distributed by 500 priests – the Bishop of Rome imparted the Blessing. The cry “Long live the Pope, Long live Francis”, rose from the Square and long rounds of applause reverberated. The climate of recollection was dispelled, festivities recommenced, and the singing of the Marian hymn, Salve Regina, – with the Pope who paused to pray before the wooden statue of the Virgin set on the parvis – concluded the solemn celebration.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 20, 2019

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