ROME — Celebrating his first Mass in the cathedral of Rome, Pope Francis called on Christians to trust in God's endless patience and mercy.
"God always waits for us, even when we have left him behind! He is never far from us, and if we return to him, he is ready to embrace us," the pope said in his homily April 7 at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
The pope commented on the Gospel reading (Jn 20:19-31) for Divine Mercy Sunday, in which the risen Christ appears to St. Thomas and lets him touch his wounds, dispelling the apostle's doubts about Jesus' resurrection.
"Jesus does not abandon Thomas in his stubborn unbelief," Pope Francis said. "He does not close the door, he waits."
"God is patient with us because he loves us, and those who love are able to understand, to hope, to inspire confidence," the pope said. "They do not give up, they do not burn bridges, they are able to forgive."
In response, Pope Francis said, the faithful must show the "courage to trust in Jesus' mercy, to trust in his patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of his love."
"How many times in my pastoral ministry have I heard it said: 'Father I have many sins,'" the pope said. "I have always pleaded: 'Don't be afraid, go to him, he is waiting for you, he will take care of everything.'"
The Mass was the occasion for Pope Francis to take formal possession of the "cathedra" (chair) of the bishop of Rome. Shortly after the start of the liturgy, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, papal vicar for Rome, read a profession of obedience to the pope on behalf of the diocese.
Then the pope sat on the raised marble chair in the basilica's apse, where he received representatives of his flock, including clergy and laypeople. The pope exchanged a few words with each, taking a bit of extra time with a Franciscan friar and married couple accompanied by their four children.
Following the late-afternoon Mass, the pope appeared at the balcony in the basilica's facade, where he briefly addressed a crowd of several thousand people, wishing them a good evening and urging all to "go forward together ... in the joy of the resurrection."
Before the Mass, Pope Francis was joined by Rome's mayor, Gianni Alemanno, in a brief ceremony rededicating the square on the west end of the basilica in memory of Blessed John Paul II.
Also April 7, the pope led a crowd in St. Peter's Square in praying the "Regina Coeli" at noon. Speaking from the window of his private office in the Apostolic Palace, the pope commented on the day's Gospel reading, observing how the apostles had taken courage from the resurrection.
"May we too have more courage to testify to faith in the risen Christ!" he said. "We should not be afraid to be Christians and live as Christians. We should have this courage, to go and announce the risen Christ, because he is our peace, he has made peace, with his love, with his forgiveness, with his blood, with his mercy."