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Religion

Pope Francis tells church to 'renew spiritually or crumble'

Pope Francis has called for the Catholic Church to undergo a spiritual renewal, saying it would otherwise crumble like a sandcastle. The new pontiff issued the warning in a sermon at a mass to close the papal conclave.

The pope made an appeal for reform and piety during the special mass on Thursday, his first as pontiff.

Francis said the church could not afford to stand still, but warned that the church risked becoming no more than a charitable organization if it lost its essence.

"Life is a path and when we stop on it, it is not good," Francis said, while adding: "we can walk all we want, we can build many things, but if we don't proclaim Jesus Christ, something is wrong. We would become a compassionate NGO and not a church."

Pope Francis celebrates first mass

The 76-year-old pontiff went as far as to liken a church that lost its spiritual focus to a child's sandcastle.

"What would happen would be like when children make sandcastle," said Francis. "Then it all comes crashing down."

Marked difference in style

The off-the-cuff sermon, delivered in Italian, was in stark contrast to that of Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, who delivered a three-page discourse in Latin during his first mass in 2005.

The mass took place in the fresco-adorned Sistine chapel, where the 115 electors took part in the vote that saw the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentine Jorge Mario Bergoglio, chosen to lead the Roman Catholic Church and its 1.2 billion followers.

Earlier in the day, Francis, who became the first pope to have been born outside Europe in 1,300 years, visited a basilica where he prayed to an icon of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The new pontiff has said he plans to meet his German-born predecessor at the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, although the Vatican has said this may not take place for a few days.

Details began to trickle out on on Thursday that Bergoglio had quickly emerged as the frontrunner for the papacy in the conclave that elected him on Wednesday. Bergoglio, who chose the name Francis in honor of the Italian St. Francis of Assisi, had been a runner-up to Benedict in the last election.

The 85-year-old Benedict, born as Joseph Ratzinger, stepped down from the papacy in February saying he no longer had the strength to lead the church.

rc/pfd (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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