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Published: 31 March 2013

Pope Francis celebrated his first Easter Mass as pontiff before a packed crowd at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican on Sunday.The pope is expected to deliver his Urbi et Orbi -- "to the city and the world" -- blessing at noon (6 a.m. ET) Sunday from his papal balcony.

Dressed in full white, Francis addressed a sea of Catholics carrying flags from around the world. He left the square riding atop his white Popemobile, exchanging smiles and waves and pausing to greet a young girl and stopping to kiss a baby .

The pope was elected about two weeks ago, succeeding Benedict XVI. A former Argentine 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 women 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 that 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.

In another detour from custom, Francis washed the feet of two girls -- an Italian and an Eastern European.

The Vatican Press Office responded Friday to "questions and concerns" related to the pope's washing the young offenders' feet, especially those of two females, calling it a "simple and spontaneous gesture of love, affection, forgiveness and mercy."

"When Jesus washed the feet of those who were with him on the first Holy Thursday, he desired to teach all a lesson about the meaning of service, using a gesture that included all members of the community," the office said in a statement. "... To have excluded the young women from the ritual washing of feet ... would have detracted our attention from the essence of the Holy Thursday gospel, and the very beautiful and simple gesture of a father who desired to embrace those who were on the fringes of society."

At Sunday's Easter Mass, more women participated in the ceremony than in years past.


CNN's Laura Smith-Spark and Jim Bittermann contributed to this report.


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