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Pilgrims from far and wide cheer 'humble' Pope Francis

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Throngs of faithful from around the world cheered the "humble" Pope Francis Tuesday at his grand inauguration in St Peter's Square, saying they hope he will bring the Church closer to ordinary people.

Nearly 200,000 pilgrims packed into the sun-baked square and the avenue leading up to it, shouting "Long live the pope" as Latin America's first pontiff stood in a white, open-topped vehicle that wound its way slowly through the crowds.

"A pope from a country which has such great inequality is a source of great hope," said Susanna Montalvo from Argentina, where the 76-year-old pontiff comes from.

She pointed out that Francis's reputation for doing good in the country's dangerous slums -- where as archbishop of Buenos Aires he often turned up unannounced for tea -- was a sign of change to come.

"Your holiness, over here!" people cried as the bespectacled Francis stopped unexpectedly and got out to touch hands with the elderly, families and children in the crowd, before delivering a homily promising a "lowly, concrete and faithful" papacy.

"It's really an emotional experience to be here," said Maria Lourdes, 37, a nun from El Salvador.

"Francis's papacy will be a great revolution for the Church, but even more for the poor people around the world."

Francis -- the surprise choice last week at a conclave of cardinals to find a successor to Benedict XVI -- told the masses that he would "embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important."

"We've heard a lot about how Francis wants to help the poor," said Riccardo Monteverde, a 32-year-old Italian who works in a homeless shelter in Rome.

"Only time will tell whether things really will now change for the better," he said.

Many said Francis's informal and open nature was refreshing.

"He reminds me of John Paul II, I think he inspires the same sort of enthusiasm and affection," said Rosell Macaraig, 30, from the Philippines.

"He's not a young pope but I think he will perform well," she said, as her three-year-old son Tommy waved the Vatican's yellow and white flag.

Claudia Fantillo from southern Italy agreed: "I like his way of talking, he manages to be jokey but at the same time very moving. He's a new John Paul II."

Touts in the crowds sold postcards of the new pope, some of which were split into two to show a smiling Francis -- who chose his name in honour of the 13th-century saint Francis of Assisi -- alongside the hugely popular John Paul II.

But there was no sign of souvenirs of the more reserved Benedict XVI, who resigned last month.

"The atmosphere seems more relaxed than during Benedict's large masses, as if Pope Francis's down-to-earth nature is rubbing off on people already," said Claudio Gratinelli, 38, a guide for religious tourist groups visiting Rome.

Pilgrims wrapped in the Argentine flag cheered as Francis spoke and one woman broke down in tears at the sight of a man she said she had known as a humble priest back home, now head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

"He's truly inspirational. He reminds me of my grandfather, who gave us everything but never let us get away with anything. Sweet but firm," said taxi driver Susi Martino.

Among snap-happy tourists wielding cameras in the square, faithful from around the world said they had flown in especially for the inauguration.

Tyler Moore, who came from New Orleans with his class of around 20 theology students, said Francis was "a much-needed breath of fresh air".

"He's great, intriguing, different. More than anything, he's a pastoral figure who may not make great changes to the Church's line on social issues but will put it back in touch with the people -- the poor most of all," Moore said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130319/pilgrims-far-and-wide-cheer-humble-pope-francis