(CNN) — Pope Francis celebrated his first Easter Mass with departures from the style of his predecessor even as he delivered a traditional call for peace.
While it’s traditional for the pope to deliver a message of peace on Easter Sunday, his direct interactions with the crowd reinforced stylistic differences between him and the austere, distant approach of Benedict XVI, observers said.
Barely two weeks since his election, the first Latin American pope celebrated Easter Mass from an outdoor altar in the presence of tens of thousands of followers in St. Peter’s Square. Dressed in white, unadorned vestments consistent with his modest image, Francis celebrated Easter Mass alone, without his cardinals.
After Mass, he made his way through St. Peter’s Square in an open-top popemobile free of bulletproof glass so he could stop to greet followers with handshakes, embraces and kisses.
In his first Urbi et Orbi blessing from the papal balcony, Francis called for an end to conflicts in the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula. He also called for peace for Syrians — both those devastated by violence in the country and refugees in need of help — and harmony in the troubled African nations of Mali and the Central African Republic.
But while the world scrutinizes his every move, papal observers said it was too early to make judgments about how he intends to lead the Catholic Church.
“Benedict and Francis are like Pavarotti and Domingo — the style is different but the songs are the same,” said Raymond Arroyo, news director and lead anchor of EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network.
What’s clear for now, Arroyo said, is that Francis “is intent on bringing the message of the church out to the world,” as he demonstrated Sunday throughout Holy Week.
When he told his priests Thursday “to go look for the lost sheep,” he added that when they come back, they “better smell like those sheep,” Arroyo said.
“He wants them amid the people in the muck of life.”
The pope was elected almost three weeks ago, succeeding Benedict XVI. A former Argentinian cardinal, he became the first non-European pope of the modern era, the first from Latin America, the first Jesuit and the first to assume the name Francis.
Already, Francis has repeatedly veered from tradition.
Three days ago, on Holy Thursday, he went to a youth detention center in Rome — rather than the city’s chief cathedral — and washed the feet of a dozen young detainees.
Among the group at the Casal del Marmo were two females and two Muslims.
The pontiff poured water over the young offenders’ feet, wiped them with a white towel and kissed them. In his homily, given to about 50 young offenders, he said everyone should help one another.
“As a priest and as a bishop, I should be at your service. It is a duty that comes from my heart,” he said.
The act of foot-washing is part of the Christian tradition that mirrors Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet.
Francis’ decision to include two females — an Italian and an Eastern European — in the ceremony disturbed some traditionalists, who believe the 12 people should reflect the 12 male apostles.
The Vatican Press Office responded Friday to “questions and concerns” related to the pope’s washing the young offenders’ feet, calling it a “simple and spontaneous gesture of love, affection, forgiveness and mercy.”
If anything, Francis’ outreach to women, along with his emphasis on “reinvigorating the Christian faith” in parts of the world “where secularism has the upper hand” continues the tradition of Benedict and popes before him, said author and theologian Matthew Bunson, a senior fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.
“That hallmark of humility and simplicity are his personal expressions as pope,” Bunson said. “There is something wonderfully new about him, but he’s also maintaining the teachings of the church in wonderful continuity with the popes who’ve gone before him.”