"New Year's" with Francis
To mark the day, the Pope began by presiding at last night's customary Vespers with Rome's college students. The more unique of the events comes later today, though, as Francis makes his second visit to a Roman parish, where he'll celebrate a rare evening Mass.
About a half-hour from the Vatican on the city's outskirts, the 6pm (Noon ET, 9 Pacific) trip to S. Cirilo Alessandrino parish
SVILUPPO: In his impromptu homily before confirming nine boys from the parish, the Pope repeated a point previously made to young people on his September trip to Sardinia, urging the confirmandi to not make the rite their "sacrament of farewell" from the life of the church.
"Even after confirmation," Francis said, "all of life is an encounter with Jesus: in prayer, when we go to Mass, and when we do good, when we visit the sick, when we help a poor person, when we think of others, when we aren't selfish, when we're friendly... in these things we always meet Jesus. And this is the journey of life: walking onward to meet Jesus."
After giving the final blessing, meanwhile, the pontiff kept the microphone at hand to take a swipe at his handlers, apologizing to the standing-room only congregation "should anything in the organization of this visit have disturbed you; maybe an excess of security or of fear.
"Know that I do not agree with it," the Pope said. "I am with you. Thank you!"
In response, the pews erupted in applause.
Despite an advertised 6pm start, the Mass began a half-hour early, ostensibly as the people were already present well in advance due to the security procedures.
Prior to the liturgy, the Holy See reported that Francis heard seven confessions alongside meeting the parish's First Communion class, the babies baptized over the last year (with their parents) and some of the community's sick. Afterward, he spent some moments with the parish council and worked a rope-line of everyone else before returning to the Vatican.
While the Pope meets Monday morning with the Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, Tuesday brings the second meeting of the "Council of Cardinals" (C-8) Francis established to study the reform of the Roman Curia and advise him on general matters of governance.
The second "Super 8" summit is slated to run through Thursday, and the group will be convoked again on the eve of Francis' first consistory for the creation of new cardinals, already set for February 22nd. The latter week will likewise bring the Pope's first meeting with his entire "Senate" since the days immediately following his election.
Long a significant crowd-magnet marking the popular start of "Christmas" in Rome – the natives' equivalent to Santa's arrival at the end of US Thanksgiving parades – the mix of the rite's weekend timing and Italy's full-on outbreak of "Francescomania" tip a record turnout.