03/16/2013 02:20 pm ET

Pope Francis Tells Cardinals Not To Cede To 'Pessimism'

Marco Della Cava
USA Today

ROME (RNS) An animated and impassioned Pope Francis addressed the entire College of Cardinals in an ornate Vatican hall Friday (March 15), looking very much like the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics but sounding like a local priest addressing his flock.

Sitting on a massive gold and red throne and dressed in white, a smiling Francis implored his audience to "not cede to the bitterness and pessimism that the devil offers us every day." Instead, the church must "find new ways to spread the word of God to every corner of the world."

This was the first in a series of formal events that are meant to help the new pope and his followers make the transition from Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, to Pope Francis, the world's first Jesuit and Latin American pontiff.

On Sunday, the pope will address and bless a crowd in St. Peter's Square; next Tuesday is his official installation Mass, which will be attended by global leaders including U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Despite the formality of the moment and setting, Francis, 76, continued to display the warmth and approachability that have marked his life as a cardinal. When speaking, he often leaned forward in his throne and waved his hands. He almost never stopped smiling, and became even more jovial when he finished his speech and greeted the cardinals one by one.

During the talk, Francis thanked his former peers, who were dressed in contrasting black robes with red skull caps, for electing him. He also offered "profound thanks to my predecessor," the recently retired Benedict XVI. Francis is expected to make a trip in the coming days to the papal retreat of Castel Gandolfo to visit Benedict, the first pope to resign in 600 years.

The lightest moment of the half-hour event came when Francis noted that "maybe half of us are in old age, which I consider to be the seat of wisdom. We've walked the path of life." Many of the cardinals smiled.

"Let's give this wisdom to the young, (we are like) good wine that improves with age," he said, then referred to a favorite quote from a German poet who wrote that "old age is a time for tranquility and prayer. Let's pass that on."

(Marco della Cava writes for USA Today)