Pope wades into crowds, surprising onlookers
In this photo provided by the Vatican paper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis greets faithful from a side gate of the Vatican, Sunday, March 17, 2013. Pope Francis began his first Sunday as pontiff by making an impromptu appearance to the public from a side gate of the Vatican, startling passersby and prompting cheers, then kept up his simple, spontaneous style by delivering a brief, off-the-cuff homily at the Vatican's tiny parish church. Dressed only in white cassock, Francis waved to the crowd in the street outside St. Anna's Gate and before entering the church, which serves Vatican City State's hundreds of residents, he shook hands of the parishioners and kissed babies. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Walking up to crowds, shaking hands with surprised bystanders in the street, mixing his formal speeches with off-the-cuff remarks, Pope Francis stamped his own style on the papacy Sunday.
His humor and down-to-earth manner captivated those filling St. Peter's Square in Rome to overflowing, and he worked the crowd in a way that had to give his security staff palpitations. Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno, in the square himself, estimated the crowd's size at 300,000.
"Brothers and sisters, 'Buon giorno,'" Francis said in Italian in his first welcome from the window of the papal residence, setting an informal tone that has become the defining spirit of his young papacy.
Pope Francis delivers his Angelus prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, March 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
Earlier Sunday, he made an impromptu appearance before the public from a side gate of the Vatican that startled passers-by and prompted cheers as he shook hands and kissed babies. Francis had just finished celebrating Mass and delivering a six-minute homily — brief by church standards — in the Vatican's tiny parish church, St. Anna, when he walked outside to greet parishioners one by one, just as an ordinary pastor does after weekly services.
Francis started speaking at the window even before the stroke of noon — the appointed time for the weekly papal address. The windows of the papal study in the Apostolic Palace were opened for the first time since Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, gave his last Sunday blessing on Feb. 24. Four days later, Benedict went into retirement, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years.