It was with a call for the protection of the weakest in society that Francis was officially inaugurated Tuesday as the Catholic Church's 266th pontiff, before a crowd of tens of thousands bathed in sunlight.
Giving his homily before the throngs in St. Peter's Square, Francis showed the humility and concern for ordinary people that have been noted since he became the first Latin American to be elected pope six days ago.
Before he spoke, he was given the official symbols of his papacy: a lamb's wool shawl, to represent his role as "the good shepherd," and the Fisherman's Ring, to represent his role of spreading the gospel.
The ring is not solid gold like that of his predecessors, but made of gold-plated silver -- again reflecting his desire for simplicity.
The pope delivered his homily in Italian, rooted in a message of looking after the poor and sick, as well as the natural world.
He reflected first on the symbolism of the date: this is the day that Catholics celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph to honor Jesus' father on Earth, the carpenter Joseph.
Francis spoke of Joseph's role in protecting not only Jesus and Mary, but also the church.
He spoke too of the need to protect "all creation, the beauty of the created world" as instructed by the Bible and shown by St. Francis of Assisi, whose name he took as pope.
This, he said, "means respecting each of God's creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about."
He warned of the consequences if people do not look after one another.
"Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened."
And he urged those in power to live up to their duties, and to all to avoid evil, hatred and pride.
"I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: Let us be 'protectors' of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment," he said.
After his homily, 500 priests dispensed communion to the throngs of locals, pilgrims, tourists and dignitaries gathered for the historic occasion.
Between 150,000 and 200,000 people turned out in and around St. Peter's Square, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman. Police in the area told CNN there were fewer people than expected but declined to give an estimate.
Pope Francis earlier made his way into the square atop an open-top vehicle, spending 17 minutes circling among the crowds in bright sunshine.
He wore the simple iron cross that he's had since he was appointed bishop and that he had on when he first appeared to the world as pope. And he chose black shoes rather than the red ones favored by Benedict XVI.
When the gathered faithful held up babies and young children for him to kiss, he obliged. He also stepped out of his sport utility vehicle to kiss the head of a man with a physical disability.
Even though at least a dozen security officers in suits walked alongside the SUV as he circled the square, his decision to bypass the Popemobile, which his last two predecessors used, was telling.
The Mercedes Benz G-Class SUV afforded him the kind of direct contact with people he has embraced since becoming pope.
Had he been in the Popemobile, he would have been behind bulletproof glass, which was installed in 1981 after an assassination attempt on John Paul II.
Filipino priest and CNN iReporter Joel Camaya, who was among those in St. Peter's Square, was enthralled by the spectacle, and the contrasting humility, of the newly elected pontiff.
"The Pope spoke with such passion and force that the words exuded life and thus, as he spoke, there were instances of spontaneous applause," he said. "In the piazza, people who haven't even known each other exchanged smiles, happy that they belonged to one big family."
Francis called his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Monday afternoon to wish him well on the day of the Feast of St. Joseph and to thank him again for his service. Benedict, in turn, said he had been following the events since Francis' selection closely and assured his closeness in prayer.