Pope Francis spoke to journalists today at the Vatican, telling them, "I would like a church which is poor and working for the poor."

The new Pope, chosen Wednesday to lead the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, spoke mostly in Italian, with some Spanish, for about 15 minutes inside Paul VI hall.

He explained that he named himself after St. Francis of Asissi, the saint who is a symbol of peace, austerity and service to the poor — and he said the mission of the church should be to serve the poor.

Francis also made some jokes about how hard journalists were working to tell this story, and thanked them for their coverage. Much of what he said was received with warm applause and even some cheers.

Christopher Livesay is a reporter with Ansa, the leading Italian news agency. He said the media audience could be described as a massive public relations event.

"This is a very well thought-out event on the part of the Vatican. They know this is a relationship they're going to have to foster over the next few years so they're doing their best to get off on the right foot with the media," he said.

Livesay said Francis is starting off in a warm and amicable relationship with the media, but adds journalists should stay critical and treat him like any other citizen.

"He's had a great start for making a good impression with the media. Now it's up to the media to treat him like someone worthy of the scrutiny we’re going to give him.

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Pope Francis prayed before the replica of the Grotto of Lourdes at the Vatican Gardens before speaking to journalists from around the world. (Osservatore Romano/Reuters)

"He's done a good job to nurture his reputation about being someone concerned about the poor, concerned about the infirm. If we’re doing our job as media, we shouldn’t treat it as a honeymoon, we should treat him as any other citizen," Livesay said.

Other journalists, though, admitted they took off their reporter hats for this occasion and soaked in the meaning and spirituality of the moment.

"I felt really touched. I’m not really near to the church but this pope is a special pope. He reminds me of Pope John II. I think there will be a big change in the church. I think there will be a new direction," said Veronique Bernadini, a freelance TV producer in Rome who is working for the CBC and other networks.

"In this moment today I am not in the media, I’m just living the spiritual moment, because I think even in our job as journalists or producer, you have to find some moments to think about your spirituality," she said.

Before conducting his talk to the world press, the pontiff spent a private moment in prayer before the replica of the Grotto of Lourdes in the Vatican gardens.

Next Saturday, Pope Francis plans to visit his predecessor at the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo.

He will also meet with the Argentine president, whom he has criticized for her liberal measures.

Francis will fly by helicopter March 23 to the retreat in the hills south of Rome and will have lunch with Benedict XVI before returning to the Vatican, the Holy See said in a statement Saturday.

Benedict resigned Feb. 28, the first pontiff in 600 years to step down. Francis was elected on Wednesday.

Francis will also meet with the Argentine president, Christina Kirchner, on the eve of his installation Mass on Tuesday, the Vatican said.

The former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was an outspoken critic of Kirchner, who has imposed socially liberal measures that are anathema to the church, from gay marriage and adoption to free contraceptives for all.

With files from CBC's Karen Pauls and The Associated Press