(Reuters) – Pope Francis, barely 12 hours after his election, quietly left the Vatican early on Thursday to pray for guidance as he looks to usher a Roman Catholic Church mired in intrigue and scandal into a new age of simplicity and humility.

Francis, the Argentinian cardinal who has become the first pope born outside Europe in 1,300 years, went to Rome’s 5th-century Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore; there he prayed before a famed icon of Mary, the mother of Jesus, which is known as the Salus Populi Romani, or Protectress of the Roman People.

“He spoke to us cordially, like a father,” said Father Ludovico Melo, a priest who prayed with the new pontiff. “We were given 10 minutes’ advance notice that the pope was coming.”

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