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Francis starts papacy with plea for the poor

At least 150,000 throng St Peter's Square for pope's installation

Alessandro, Speciale, Vatican City
Vatican City

March 20, 2013

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Pope Francis officially opened his pontificate with a solemn Mass in St Peter's Square attended by more than 150,000 people, according to the Vatican.

In his homily, the Argentine pope issued a strong call to protect the environment and the weakest members of society.

“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.”

Francis also invited Catholics not to be “afraid of goodness, of tenderness.”

Dignitaries from 132 countries and international organization were in attendance, together with religious leaders from other Christian churches and religions.

And for the first time, one of the believers' prayers during the Mass was recited in Chinese.

“May almighty God, by His Holiness, transform the lives of us all and make us ever more like the Lord Jesus,” Lucia Lui said in front of the tens of thousands of people gathered in the square.

Taiwan's president Ying-Jeou Ma was one of 32 heads of state who attended the ceremony, despite protests from mainland China authorities.

On Monday, father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, stressed that the Vatican doesn't issue invitations for the inauguration ceremony.

“No one is privileged nor turned down. We welcome everyone who tells us they want to be present,” he said.

The Vatican is one of the few states to have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan while it only has unofficial contacts with Beijing.

“We hope that the Vatican will adopt concrete measures to create the conditions to improve the relationship,” Hua Chunying, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said commenting on Ma's attendance.

Timor East's president Taur Matan Ruak was the other Asian head of state to attend the inauguration, while the Philippines was represented by deputy president Jejomar C Binay.

Other Asian countries sent their deputy prime ministers, such as Turkey's Bekir Bozdag, their foreign ministers or other ministers and dignitaries.

For the first time, Rome's chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, was present. The Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, became the first spiritual leader representing Eastern Orthodox Christians to attend a papal installation in over 1,000 years.

Nichiko Niwano led a delegation from Japan's Buddhist group Rissho-Kosei-kai, while Sikh, Jain and Hindu representatives were also represented.

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