VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Princes and presidents, diplomats and dictators, patriarchs and pastors came together in St. Peter’s Square to witness the inauguration of Pope Francis’ ministry.
Any signs of animosity or favor were set aside as more than 130 government representatives, as well as dozens of religious leaders, sat side by side at the March 19 ceremony.
“Unlike the secretary-general of the United Nations or even the president of the United States or any other world leader, the pope is in a unique position to foster peace and reconciliation,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.
“It is in the DNA of faith that we are to absolutely shun hatred and retaliation and live a life of love and forgiveness and reconciliation, and this pope will bring that to this very important world stage at a time where there are wars and rumors of wars” around the world, he told Catholic News Service a few hours after the Mass.
The new pope’s strong relationship with Jews and openness to dialogue with Muslims will be a great asset to world peace, said Smith, a Catholic.
“There will never be peace and reconciliation in the Middle East unless there are catalysts like Pope Francis who can bring people together,” he said. “I do believe this pope will have a unique opportunity to reach out and promote that reconciliation we all crave.”
The New Jersey congressman led a 10-member bipartisan congressional delegation to represent the United States along with the four-person presidential delegation headed by Vice President Joe Biden.
According to pool reports, the vice president and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., took Communion.
The presidential delegation also delivered a letter from U.S. President Barack Obama for the pope.
The United States sent such high-level and well-attended delegations to emphasize and express “our profound respect to the new pope and to let the Vatican know how highly we regard and value … Pope Francis and all that the Vatican does,” Smith said.
“The pope is a great peacemaker,” he said.
The fact that the newly elected pope took the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi “just underscored and put exclamation points behind” the role of the pope as a protector who will care for life and do it with love, the congressman said.
He praised the pope’s homily, saying it was “a clarion call for all of us,” including world leaders, not just Catholics, to do all they can to protect creation and all forms of life — including the unborn.
“We need to be looking out (for) the poor, the disenfranchised, the weak, the vulnerable, and this pope has made it very clear, both as a cardinal and before that, as has our church, how important it is to remember the most-forgotten member of the human community now, and that is the pre-born child,” Smith said.
“So I do think many will be inspired to take the culture of life, to take this sense of protection and (call to be a) protector into the public square and into society, and only good will come of that,” he said.
Biden shook hands with Pope Francis at the end of the Mass as the highest-level members of each delegation stood in line, more than an hour long, waiting to greet and exchange a few words with the pope.
Besides Pelosi, other members of the presidential delegation who attended the Mass included New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University.
The members of the congressional delegation included: Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala.; Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.; Sean Duffy, R-Wis.; Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.; Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas; Jim Langevin, D-R.I.; Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill.; and Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif.