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Pope Francis Begins With Prayer, Turns To Challenges

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On the morning after he changed from Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to Pope Francis, the new head of the Roman Catholic Church quietly slipped out of the Vatican to pray at Rome's 5th-century Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome, priests at the basilica were given 10 minutes notice Thursday that the new pope would be coming.

"He spoke to us cordially, like a father," Father Ludovico Melo, a priest who prayed with the new pontiff, tells Reuters.

Francis, an Argentine and the church's first pope from the Americas, also spoke Thursday with his predecessor — the now-retired Pope Benedict XVI — according to Sylvia and other correspondents who cover the Vatican. Later in the day, he was to celebrate his first mass as pontiff with the cardinals who elected him pope.

He is embarking, as NPR's Philip Reeves tells our Newscast Desk, on a life of daunting challenges. The church is still reeling — over tales of corruption and cases of sexual abuse of minors by some priests. Francis, Phil says, must quickly "set about appointing his senior Vatican staff — amid outside pressure to bring about sweeping reforms, and end an era that has been beset by scandal."

Along with the news of how Francis is beginning his papacy, we're learning more about the man who now leads the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

On Morning Edition, NPR's John Burnett reported that Wednesday night, "after the new pope had slipped on the Ring of the Fisherman, donned his new white vestments, blessed the adoring crowd in St. Peter's square, and gotten his things together, he was expected to take his first ride in the papal convoy. As the conclave adjourned, the cardinals piled onto buses for the ride back to Domo Santa Marta, where they'd been staying."

And who should ride along with them, instead of in his own vehicle? The newly minted pope. "I guess he told the driver, 'that's okay I'll just go with the guys on the bus.' He's a wonderful, simple man," said New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

Also on Morning Edition, Thomson/Reuters correspondent Hugh Bronstein talked with host Renee Montagne about the reaction to the new pope from his native Argentina. It was "a shock, at first, for Argentina," Bronstein said, because then-Cardinal Bergoglio had not been thought to be among the leading contenders. But shock soon gave way to jubilation, he added.

Despite the joy, many in Argentina do have questions about the new pope, Bronstein said. It has long been alleged that during the dark years of the '70s and early '80s when the country was ruled by a military dictatorship, "he did not protect his Jesuit priests the way he could have or should have," Bronstein said, and did not speak out forcefully against the junta.

Pope Francis is, of course, the day's top news. Here's a quick look at some of the other headlines about him and what his selection means for the church:

-- "New Pope Shifts Center Of Gravity." (The New York Times)

-- "Catholic Church Looks To The New World." (The Wall Street Journal)

-- "Pope Francis, A New World Pontiff, Faces Old Challenges." (Los Angeles Times)

-- "Francis Begins His Challenging Papacy." (BBC News)

-- "A Jesuit Named Francis!" (National Review Online's The Corner)

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