Less that 12 hours after standing before 100,000 cheering faithful in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis left the Vatican to pay a surprise visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, a 5th-century basilica in Rome, to pray.
The surprised priest at the Basilica, Father Ludovico Melo, told Reuters that he had only a short warning that the new pope would arrive.
When he arrived, Pope Francis prayed alone before the icon of Mary and then lead others in the church in a prayer.
“He spoke to us cordially, like a father,” Melo, told Reuters. “We were given 10 minutes’ advance notice that the pope was coming.”
On Thursday morning, Vatican spokespeople said Pope Francis is eventually expected to travel to the papal summer home, south of Rome, where he will meet with the former pope, Benedict. But that visit is “not today, tomorrow, or within the next few days,” reports The Guardian.