There were several surprises when Pope Francis made his debut on the papal balcony at Saint Peter’s – above and beyond the fact that he was not one of the favourites.
His manner and dress also showed signs of something new – and a message that he is a very different man to his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.
The new pontiff chose not to wear some of the most regal papal garb and he humbly asked the assembled crowd to bless him before he blessed them.
In Rome, Italian pilgrim Ivan said: “I noticed that last night he didn’t wear the red mozzetta with the ermine trim. That’s aready a small sign of breaking with tradition.”
With the election of Pope Francis, who has long pastoral experience in his native Argentina, one cardinal’s prayer seem to have been answered. Before the conclave to vote for the new pope began, the Dean of the College of Cardinals Angelo Sodano wished for such a man:
“We implore the Lord, through the pastoral solicitude of the father cardinals, to give us a new pastor for his holy Church,” Sodano said.
Pope Francis’s new flock encompasses 1.2 billion Catholics world-wide.
Many within the church are hoping he will be able to re-establish Roman Catholicism’s former stronghold in Western Europe. But it will not be easy, due to the strongly secular nature of European society.
And in 2013 can the oldest institution in the world achieve growth without reform?
Many say issues such as the celibacy of priests and the exclusion of women from the priesthood need to be addressed.
They add that the Church also needs to break away from its scandal-ridden recent past – plagued by sexual abuse revelations, as well as allegations of corruption and infighting.
On the operational front, the new pope also has a lot to do. The Vatican bank needs to be brought into line with international standards.
Reforming the Roman Curia, the Vatican city’s administrative arm, is a huge task. Critics say it hinders the pope’s holy mission more than it helps.
They say it must be overhauled in order to bring the administration into the twenty first century and restore faith in how the scandal-hit Church is run.
All these problems faced the last pope, and some say he threw in the towel rather than confront them.