ROME – The inauguration Mass for Pope Francis has been held in St Peter’s Square in Rome, marking the start of his papacy.
Francis earlier toured the square in an open-topped vehicle, descending to bless pilgrims behind the barriers.
His homily called on global leaders and all people of the world to protect the weak and the poor. Up to 200,000 people attended the Mass.
Francis was elected by a conclave of cardinals last week to take over from Benedict XVI.
Benedict became the first pontiff in 600 years to abdicate last month. Citing his age, 85, he said he could no longer continue in the post.
The first pontiff from the Americas, Francis has suggested he will take a more modest approach than predecessors.
Pope Francis, formerly Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, left his temporary residence at Casa Santa Marta shortly before 09:00 (08:00 GMT) and began touring St Peter’s Square.
A smiling Pope Francis greets the faithful from an open-topped Popemobile. Pale-blue and white flags of his native Argentina bob above the heads of the crowd. One symbol of historic change.
Other hints of change – the style and length of this inaugural Mass. The new Pope shortened it. Still magnificent, but with some of the pomp deliberately stripped away.
Instead of all his cardinals demonstrating obedience, just six represented them all.
Pope Francis said in his homily that his power, to be authentic, should be service to others – especially the poorest and the weakest in the world. The new Pope apparently hopes to repair the reputation of the Catholic Church by reviving basic Christian teaching.
He waved to the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, who flew flags and shouted: “Long live the Pope!”
Rodrigo Grajales, a 31-year-old Colombian priest, told AFP news agency: “With Pope Francis, the Church will be closer to the people and to the modern world.”
One of the Pope’s first duties was to go down to the tomb of St Peter to venerate it.
Francis was then presented with his papal pallium made of lambs’ wool – symbolising his role as shepherd of his flock – in the main square.
He also received the “fisherman’s ring” bearing the image of St Peter holding two keys. The ring is second hand and is made of silver-plated gold, not the solid gold worn by Francis’ predecessor.
With the reception of the pallium and ring, Francis officially began his office as the 266th pope.
The Pope then received the obedience of the cardinals, and the Mass formally began.
Francis then delivered his homily, in Italian.
It began by focusing on Joseph and his role as protector – of Mary, Jesus and the Church.
Pope Francis expanded the image, referring to the saint whose name he had taken – Francis of Assisi – and saying that the role of protector was not just a Christian one.
Pope Francis, 18 March Pope Francis receives the fisherman’s ring to begin his papacy
He said: “It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world… It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live.
“It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about.”
Francis called on “all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life” to be protectors of creation.
“To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope,” Francis said.
“Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world.”
Communion was then distributed by 500 priests throughout the crowd and the Mass was concluded.
It was co-celebrated by around 180 clergymen, including Adolfo Nicolas, the superior general of Pope Francis’ Jesuit order.
The list of attendees also includes US Vice-President Joe Biden and the spiritual head of the Orthodox Church, Patriarch Bartholomew.
He is the first Orthodox patriarch to attend a papal inauguration Mass since the two branches of Christianity split more than 1,000 years ago.
Thirty-three groups of guests from various Christian Churches were expected in total, according to the Vatican, along with 16 delegations from Jewish communities, as well as representatives of other faiths.
Hundreds of people gathered on Tuesday in Plaza de Mayor, the main square in Buenos Aires, to watch the Mass broadcast on giant screens set up outside the cathedral.
Mass watched in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 19 March Hundreds watched the Mass on screens in Buenos Aires
Correspondents say that in his first few days in office, Pope Francis has been striking an informal and spontaneous tone, preferring anecdotes and off-the-cuff remarks to scripted speeches.
Speaking on Saturday, he emphasised that he wanted “a poor Church, for the poor”.
He is the first pontiff to take the name of Francis, choosing it to honour St Francis of Assisi, the 13th-Century son of an aristocrat who spurned a life of luxury to live with and for the poor.
Pope Francis said the Holy Spirit had inspired the resignation of Benedict XVI and guided the cardinals choosing him as the next pontiff.
At the end of a Mass he celebrated on Sunday, he waited outside the church and greeted people as they left, like a parish priest, asking many of them to “pray for me”.
Later, just a few minutes after delivering the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis sent his first Tweet as pontiff, writing: “Dear friends, I thank you from my heart and I ask you to continue to pray for me. Pope Francis.”