- (Photo: Reuters//Osservatore Romano)
Pope Francis delivered his first Angelus blessing to a crowd of about 300,000 people at the Vatican on Sunday, calling for mercy as Jesus demonstrated in the biblical account of the woman caught in adultery. However, back in his native country, Argentina, accusers continued to raise questions about his past.
"Brothers and sisters, good morning," the new pope said informally as he began his address from the window of the papal apartments overlooking St Peter's Square. "I'm pleased to greet you on Sunday, which is fitting as it is the day of the Lord," he told the cheering crowd that chanted his name in Italian, "Francesco, Francesco, Francesco."
"A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just," Reuters quoted Francis as saying.
The pope based his short sermon on the biblical story of the crowd that wanted to stone a woman who had committed adultery but was saved by Jesus, who told them "let he among you who is without sin, cast the first stone" before telling the woman "go and sin no more."
"I think even we are sometimes like these people, who on the one hand want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, sometimes we like to stone others and condemn others. The message of Jesus is this: mercy," the pope said.
"God always has patience," USA Today quoted him as saying. "We can always go back with a contrite heart."
Before leaving the window, the pope once again addressed the crowd informally, saying, "Have a nice Sunday and have a nice lunch."
True to his image of being a pope with distinguished pastoral and people skills, Francis greeted people outside the church as they left the building after the Mass. He asked many of them to "Pray for me."
Even his first tweet on Sunday urged his more than 1.9 million followers to pray for him. "Dear friends, I thank you from my heart and I ask you to continue to pray for me. Pope Francis," he wrote in the tweet.
After the Mass, the pope, a Jesuit, suddenly decided to walk over to the cheering masses behind the barricades to shake hands and kiss babies.
However, his accusers in Argentina continued to raise questions about his past.
Jorge Bergoglio, as Francis was called before taking the papal name last week, was accused by some of playing a role in the kidnapping and torture of two priests, Father Orlando Yorio and Father Francisco Jalics, by the military during Argentina's Dirty War in 1976. He had dismissed the two just prior to their disappearance and they were suspected of collaborating with Marxist groups.
The two priests were tortured and kept in a concentration camp for nearly six months after they refused Bergoglio's order to leave the slum where they were working.
An Argentinian newspaper, Pagina 12, carried old documents Sunday, suggesting Bergoglio was in contact with the military authorities.
A foreign ministry memo from 1979 seems to suggest Bergoglio had passed on suspicions to the authorities, The Guardian reported, of the published documents.
Bergoglio has strongly denied the allegation, has testified in court about his role and was never charged with a crime.
Bergoglio told his authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin, that after the priests' imprisonment, he worked behind the scenes for their release, and his intercession with dictator Jorge Rafael Videla on their behalf may have saved their lives.
The Vatican has also denounced the allegations as "a defamatory campaign." "There have been many declarations of how much he did for many people to protect them from the military dictatorship," spokesman Federico Lombardi said last week.
On Friday, the pope urged leaders of the Roman Catholic Church never to give in to discouragement, bitterness or pessimism but to keep focused on their mission. "Let us never give in to the pessimism, to that bitterness, that the devil places before us every day. Let us not give into pessimism and discouragement," he told the cardinals who chose him.
Francis has also called for the Church to stick to the faith's Gospel roots and shun modern temptations. The Church must not become just another charitable group without its divine mission, he said.
On Tuesday, his formal installation ceremony will be held, attended by many world dignitaries, including U.S. Vice President Biden, who is Catholic.