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Francis honors John Paul II before installation

Sunday - 4/7/2013, 11:01pm  ET

Pope Francis delivers his blessing during the Regina Coeli prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, April 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Associated Press

ROME (AP) -- Pope Francis was formally installed as bishop of Rome on Sunday in a ceremony characterized by more simplicity than the usual ritual and pomp enjoyed by papal predecessors taking up their pastoral duties.

In yet another sign that Francis sees his mission as pontiff as one of humble service, he used his arrival at St. John in Lateran Basilica to honor a past pope who remains wildly popular in Rome. Francis arrived a half-hour early to bless a plaque renaming a corner of the piazza outside the church after Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005.

Francis applauded, then gave his blessing after Rome's mayor unveiled the simple white stone plaque marking "Giovanni Paul II Square" in a section of the vast piazza, which often hosts free rock concerts and political and labor rallies.

The pope, who has stressed the importance of simplicity, arrived for the unveiling wearing a plain white cassock, in modest contrast to the wardrobe of the Italian cardinal who welcomed him wearing a red cape.

The two-hour-long, early evening installation ceremony was a significant one for the church, since a pope is pontiff because he is elected bishop of Rome, and not vice versa. Right after his election on March 13 as the church's first pope from Latin America, Francis made clear he would relish his pastoral role as the city's bishop.

"I ask you to pray for me, I need it, don't forget," the pope told tens of thousands of people in the square after he stepped onto the basilica's main balcony at ceremony's end and greeted the public with impromptu remarks. "Let's go forward, all together, the people and the bishop, all together, forward with the joy" of the risen Christ, Francis said. A gust of wind blew off his white skull cap.

Francis' insistence on his bishop's role "speaks to his sensibility in truly being the pastor of a church through concrete ways," Cardinal Agostino Vallini told Vatican Radio ahead of the installation ceremony. Vallini, who is the pope's vicar to the Rome diocese, is the prelate who greeted Francis and who, along with city hall, decided a part of St. John in Lateran Square should be named after John Paul II.

The basilica is the city's most ancient, with foundations dating back to the early 4th century. The installation ceremony held there is steeped in centuries of ritual that modern popes have updated to the times.

But while many ornately dressed pontiffs in centuries past arrived in a fancy horse-drawn carriage, Francis rolled into a side entrance of the basilica complex in an open-topped white jeep. Before going indoors, the vehicle stopped again and again so his security team, walking briskly alongside, could pass babies to him so he could kiss them, to the delight of thousands of people gathered in the area. When wind started whipping up, Francis took off his skull cap, letting the breeze tussle his hair.

Francis later donned the tall, peaked bishop's hat, and wearing simply adorned cream-colored vestments, gently sat back in the mosaic-studded basilica chair, known as the "Cathedra Romana," that symbolizes the post of Rome bishop.

He was handed the pastoral staff, symbolizing a bishop's care for his flock. Barely a few minutes later, Francis was up on his feet, shaking hands with priests, nuns, and then with the parents and young children in a Rome family, chatting amiably with them. The clergy and lay people were chosen to represent his flock and pledge obedience to the pontiff.

"It is with joy that I am celebrating the Eucharist for the first time in this Lateran Basilica, the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome. I greet all of you with great affection," Francis said in his homily.

Francis urged people to cultivate patience and love, saying that "those who love are able to understand, to hope, to inspire confidence; they do not give up, they do not burn bridges, they are able to forgive."

Also updated in Francis' installation as bishop were the words chosen to be recited by Cardinal Vallini when professing obedience to the pope's teaching and leadership. While such past pledges have described the pontiff as being "in an elevated position to govern," the one used for Francis simply described the pontiff as "presiding over all the Churches in charity."

That choice is seen as not only as an expression of Francis' humility but also of his sensitivity to other religious figures, especially those who lead Orthodox Christians. The Orthodox church broke off some 1,000 years ago from Rome in part over disputes about the primacy of the pontiff.

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