New Pope to Hold First Mass Thursday

A nun looks at front pages showing newly elected Pope Francis at a newsstand near the Vatican, March 14, 2013.
Pope Francis has started his first full day as head of the Roman Catholic Church.

The first ever Latin American pontiff spent a short time praying in a Rome church known as the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. Later in the day, the pope conducts a private mass in the Sistine Chapel with the cardinals who elected him on Wednesday.

He plans to meet soon with his predecessor, Pope Benedict, who stepped down last month and is staying at the papal summer home outside Rome. Benedict is now known as Pope Emeritus.

Pope Francis, formerly Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, is the first Jesuit to be elected to the position and the first pope to take the name Francis.

Related - Argentine Jorge Bergoglio Elected Pope

Leaders from around the world have been sending their congratulations to the new pope, who will be officially be installed Tuesday.

U.S. President Barack Obama praised the selection of the first pope from the Americas, saying that it speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that he said is "increasingly shaping our world." He was among the first to extend best wishes to the new pontiff, whom he called the champion of the poor and vulnerable.

Vice-President Joe Biden, who is a Roman Catholic, will lead the U.S. delegation to attend the new pope's inauguration mass in the Vatican next Tuesday.

Argentines were ecstatic about the selection of the first pope from their country, as were Hispanics in the rest of Latin America and elsewhere.

About 40 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics live in Latin America, with Brazil and Mexico having the largest Catholic populations.

Pope Francis, like the saint whose name he has chosen, is noted for his humility and commitment to social issues. He has also been criticized for his firm opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion and for his absence of criticism against the atrocities committed by Argentina's military government between 1976 and 1983.

The fact that the pope is not Italian, or even European, may bode well for the church, according to Jesuit priest William Currie, the former president of a Catholic university in Tokyo.

"I think the fact that he is an outsider to the Vatican, an outsider to the Curia, there advantages and disadvantages, but frequently an outsider can make changes where maybe someone who has been inside the system too long could not," said Currie.

Joe Torres, bureau chief of the website Catholic Asia News, says Asians hope Pope Francis will be aware of issues that are important to them.

"Most Asians hope that their voice will be heard in the running of the church," said Torres. "There are many issues in Asia, like poverty in the midst of economic development in some parts of the world. That’s why stronger voice of the church about equality, about human rights, about the injustices that are still going on in some parts of Asia, are most awaited from the new pope."

Torres is based in the Philippines, where about 80 percent of the population is Roman Catholic. Torres says Asians are eager to learn about the new pope because, until now, he has been "virtually unknown" in their part of the world.