Pope Francis describes wish for 'poor church for the poor'

By Claudio Lavanga and Marian Smith, NBC News

Pope Francis (3)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said Saturday he wanted “a poor church for the poor” in his first remarks to the media since he was elected leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

Wearing simple white robes and plain black shoes, he explained how he decided to name himself after St. Francis of Assisi: When he reached two-thirds of the vote in the conclave, a fellow cardinal embraced him and said, “Don’t forget the poor.”

“That’s when I thought of Francis of Assisi,” he said. “And that is how the name came to me: Francis of Assisi, the man of poverty, of peace.”

He added: “This is what I want, a poor church for the poor.”

His comments underscored previous indications of his preference for austerity — he did not sit on the papal throne to receive the cardinals after being elected, he took a bus with the rest of the cardinals back to their hotel and he was pictured Friday paying the bill himself.

There were some 5,600 accredited journalists – including some children and family members – packed into the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, the UK’s Sky News reported.

The 76-year-old pontiff praised reporters for their coverage of the historic transition of the papacy.

“The role of mass media has become essential in modern times, so thank you…you have worked hard,” he said to applause.

Pope Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was set to meet Emeritus Pope Benedict at his retreat south of Rome next week, the Holy See said in a statement. It will be the first time in modern history that a newly elected pope has met his predecessor.

Benedict resigned from the papacy on Feb. 28, the first to do so in 600 years. Francis, an Argentine and the first non-European pope, was elected on Wednesday.

Pope Francis is also expected to meet Argentine President Christina Kirchner next week ahead of his Installation Mass on Tuesday, the Vatican said.

The two have a combative history over issues such as same-sex marriage, which Bergoglio described as “a plan to destroy God’s plan.” Kirchner, meanwhile, said his remarks were “reminiscent of the times of the Inquisition.”

On Friday, the Vatican denied “anti-clerical” accusations that Pope Francis had failed to protect priests during the so-called “dirty war” waged by Argentine dictators more than 30 years ago.

“We have every reason to affirm that these accusations are not reliable and there is no reason for them today to cast a shadow over the new pope,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said at a briefing.

A second spokesman, Father Tom Rosica said the accusations by an Argentine journalist amounted to a political smear campaign against the new pope.

“They reveal left-wing elements, anti-clerical elements that are used to attack the Church,” Rosica said. “They must be firmly and clearly denied.”

Bergoglio was not a cardinal, or even a bishop, during the time in question but supervisor of Jesuit priests in Argentina.

NBC News’ Alastair Jamieson and Ian Johnston, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.