Off-the-cuff Pope Francis wows huge crowd with Palm Sunday mass 'selfies'

Relaxed, off-the-cuff pontiff wows crowds as he ignores usual Palm Sunday homily

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 April, 2014, 5:15am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 April, 2014, 8:03am

Pope Francis - in a remarkable departure from normal practice - celebrated Palm Sunday in a packed St Peter's Square yesterday by posing for mass "selfies" with young people in the crowd.

He also went off-script by ignoring his prepared homily and speaking entirely off-the-cuff.

Smiling, and looking comfortable, the Argentinian-born pope, 77 - who was elected on March 13 last year - repeatedly hopped off his popemobile after requests to pose for "selfie" photos, and also sipped tea passed to him from the crowd.

About 100,000 residents from Rome, tourists and pilgrims were watching in the square - clutching olive tree branches, tall palm fronds or tiny braided palm leaves shaped like crosses - which Francis blessed at the start of the ceremony.

In his homily, Francis called on people, including himself, to look into their own hearts to see how they were living their lives.

"Has my life fallen asleep?" Francis asked after listening to a gospel account of how Jesus' disciples fell asleep shortly before he was betrayed by Judas before his crucifixion.

"Am I like Pontius Pilate, who, when he sees the situation is difficult, washes my hands?"

He sounded tired, often pausing for breath, as he spoke for about 15 minutes in his homily during the Palm Sunday Mass, which opens Holy Week for the Roman Catholic Church.

However, he seemed to regain his wind after the 21/2 hour ceremony; he shed the red vestments on his plain white cassock, chatted amiably with cardinals dressed much more formally than him, then began to pose for "selfies" with young people from Rio de Janeiro, who had carried a large cross in the square.

He had barely climbed aboard his open-topped popemobile when he spotted some Polish youths, who also demanded a "selfie" with him. He agreed - and promptly hopped off, without waiting for the vehicle to stop.

The Vatican's security chief also poured the pope tea from a thermos, offered from the crowd, which Francis happily sipped on.