ROME -- St. Peter's Square today looked about as packed for Pope Francis's first Angelus as it was Wednesday night for white smoke. The crowds spilled over into surrounding streets, and well up the Via della Conciliazione. (It didn't help matters that Rome has a marathon today.) They sang. They chanted. They cheered. They waved the flags of Argentina, Spain, the United States -- you name it. Comunione e Liberazione spread its enormous banner across scaffolding near the entrance to the piazza. Sant'Egidio's more modest sign hung nearby. When Pope Francis finally appeared in his apartment window at noon, the roar grew impossibly louder. As he did at his audience with the press yesterday, he spoke only in Italian (Benedict would read his address in several languages). And he spoke without a text (also a break with past papal practice).
"Good day," he began. The address continued the theme he's been sounding since the cardinals' pre-conclave meetings: mercy and forgiveness. Meditating on the Gospel passage (John 8: 1-11 -- "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"), Francis said, "This is Jesus' message: mercy. On my part, I say it with humility; this is the the Lord's strongest message: mercy. He himself said: 'I did not come for the righteous.' The righteous can justify themselves. Jesus came for the sinners."
"'Oh, Father,'" Pope Francis continued, relating what people often say to priests, "'if you knew my life you wouldn't say that.'"
"Why? What have you done?""Oh, I've done bad things."
"Good! Go to Jesus; He likes you to tell him these things. He forgets. He has the special ability to forget. He forgets them, kisses you, embraces you, and tells you only, 'Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.' He only gives you this counsel. A month later we are the same. We return to the Lord. The Lord never tires of forgiving us, never! We are the ones who get tired of asking forgiveness. Let us ask for the grace to never tire of asking forgiveness, because he never tires of forgiving us."
Underlining that theme, the pope cited the work of a cardinal whose name few were expecting to hear at Francis's first Angelus: Walter Kasper, "a talented theologian." Francis referred to Kasper's book on mercy, highlighting his point that those who experience mercy are radically changed by it. "A bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just." And he joked that he wasn't in the business of doing "publicity for books by my cardinals." (Recall that Cardinal Kasper has not always seen eye to eye with the previous pope.)
Pope Francis closed his talk as informally as he opened it: "Have a good lunch!" Informality and spontaneity are emerging as other themes of Francis's papacy. Earlier today, he celebrated Mass at the Vatican's parish church, St. Anna's, where he delivered an ad-libbed five-minute homily, greeted parishioners afterward, and then -- striking terror into his security detail -- he took to the surrounding streets to greet the public. The AP reports that several people got close enough to clap Francis on the shoulder. I understand that since his election he's been popping into a local department store to pick up a few things here and there.
Modest dress, off-the-cuff homilies, impromptu public excursions -- this is a man who will not be handled. That must have a few curial mainstays quaking in their boots.