(VATICAN CITY) — Tens of thousands of people filled St. Peter’s Square on Tuesday to welcome Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, and celebrate his inaugural Mass in front of numerous heads of state from around the world.
The 76-year-old Argentine rode around the square in an open-air jeep as he waved and kissed babies along the way. He exited the jeep at one point to bless a man who was in a wheelchair.
Speaking at his inaugural Mass, Pope Francis reflected on Joseph, whom Catholics consider a saint, and his responsibilities in protecting Jesus and Mary, and said such responsibility extends to the pope himself.
“He is in touch with his surroundings,” Francis said. “He can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call. Gladly and willingly.”
“In his heart you see great tenderness. Which is not the virtue of the weak, but rather a sign of strength, of spirit and a capacity of concern for compassion, for genuine openess to others. For love, the capacity to love,” the pope said.
Francis, dressed simply in the papal white cassock, arrived in St. Peter’s Square earlier than expected. Upwards of 200,000 people jammed into the square, according to Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Holy See press office.
People began flooding into St. Peter’s square at 6:30 a.m. local time, more than two hours before Pope Francis was schedule to arrive.
During the ceremony, Francis received the Ring of the Fisherman and the pallium, a special circular strip of cloth. Later, six cardinals approached the pope as an act of obedience to the new pontiff.
In past inaugural Masses, every cardinal in attendance professed his obedience, but Francis shortened that part of the ceremony.
Numerous heads of state from around the world were in attendance. Delegations from 132 countries were in Rome for the event, according to the Vatican.
The largest delegation, consisting of 19 people, comes from the pope’s homeland of Argentina. The pope’s fellow Argentine, President Cristina Kirchner, was in attendance. They have clashed in the past on social issues, but held a lunchtime meeting on Monday.
Vice President Joe Biden, who is Catholic, represented the United States at the event. He flew into town Sunday evening.
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