Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Protect the weak, urges new pope

Nuns line up for the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis, at St Peter's Square at the Vatican (AP)

Pope Francis has called on world leaders to respect the environment and protect the weakest as he begins his ministry as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

The 266th pontiff highlighted themes of tenderness, humility and service at his inauguration mass in Rome attended by heads of state, royalty and religious representatives from across the world and spoke of the importance of protecting the "beauty of the created world" and showing "loving concern for each and every person", especially children, the elderly and those in need.

"Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened," he told crowds gathered in St Peter's Square.

"Tragically, in every period of history there are 'Herods' who plot death, wreak havoc and mar the countenance of men and women.

"Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill - let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment."

The 76-year-old pontiff, who is famous for his frugal lifestyle, said his role as leader of the Roman Catholic Church and Bishop of Rome must be inspired by the example of the "lowly concrete service" of St Joseph, whose feast day coincided with the inaugural mass.

Before the mass, Francis received the fisherman's ring symbolising the papacy and the pallium, a woollen stole symbolic of his papal authority and role as shepherd of the worldwide Catholic faithful, and some 132 official delegations attended the mass, including more than half a dozen heads of state from Latin America, a sign of the significance of the election for the region.

In the VIP section were German chancellor Angela Merkel, US vice president Joe Biden, Argentine president Cristina Fernandez, Taiwanese president Ying-Jeou Ma, Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe, Prince Albert of Monaco and Bahraini prince Sheik Abdullah bin Haman bin Isa Alkhalifa, among others. Six sovereign rulers, 31 heads of state, three princes and 11 heads of government attended.

Kenneth Clarke and Baroness Warsi, the minister for faith and communities, represented the UK Government, while the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby was represented by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. The Queen was represented by the Duke of Gloucester.

Among the religious VIPs attending was the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Bartholomew I, who became the first patriarch from the Istanbul-based church to attend a papal investiture since the two branches of Christianity split nearly 1,000 years ago. Also attending for the first time was the chief rabbi of Rome.

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