Flags are held up by pilgrims as Pope Francis makes his way through the crowd before his inaugural Mass at the Vatican March 19.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

Flags are held up by pilgrims as Pope Francis makes his way through the crowd before his inaugural Mass at the Vatican March 19.

March 25, 2013
CINDY WOODEN
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis formally began his ministry as pope by pledging to protect the Catholic Church, the dignity of each person and the beauty of creation, just as St. Joseph protected Mary and Jesus.

"To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love is to open up a horizon of hope," he told between 150,000 and 200,000 people gathered under sunny skies March 19.

"In the Gospels," he said, "St. Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak, but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love."

"We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness," Pope Francis said.

The new pope said exercising the role of protector as St. Joseph did means doing so "discreetly, humbly and silently."

St. Joseph responded to his call to be a protector to Mary and Jesus "by being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God's presence and receptive to God's plans, and not simply his own."

The pope called on everyone to be sensitive and loving toward those in their care, especially toward children, the aged, the poor and the sick.

PROTECT THE GIFTS

"In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it," he said. "Be protectors of God's gifts."

When people fail to respect creation, when they ignore "God's plan inscribed in nature," or when they treat each other with disrespect, he said, "the way is opened to destruction, and hearts are hardened."

Pope Francis asked the government leaders present and all those with responsibility in the field of economics, politics and social life to stand firm when destruction and death threaten human dignity, human life and the environment.

Caring for others, he said, must begin with watching over one's own heart, mind and actions, resisting "hatred, envy and pride" and emotions that can tear others down.

Pope Francis told the people he realized his new ministry included "a certain power," but it is the same power Jesus conferred on St. Peter, which was the "power of service" seen in Jesus' charge to St. Peter: "Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep."

POWER IS SERVICE

"Let us never forget that authentic power is service and that the pope, too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the cross."

Pope Francis said the pope "must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked St. Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God's people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important."

"Only those who serve with love are able to protect," he said.