Francis must tackle crises caused by child abuse by priests and the leak of secret papal documents that uncovered corruption and rivalry inside the church.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who has accused the Vatican of hampering an inquiry into child sex abuse by Irish priests, summed up the thoughts of many: “We pray that he will have the strength, the good health and the spiritual guidance needed to lead the Catholic Church in the many challenges it faces.”
Francis also faces challenges from outside his church, with the growth of Islam a particular concern in Africa and Asia, and the advance of secularism in its European heartland and beyond.
In Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, some were mindful of criticism of Islam by previous popes. Slamet Effendy Yusuf, head of the Indonesian Ulema Council, said that most Muslims live in developing countries.
“We think that the new pope will better understand why in Islam there tends to be an attitude of negativity towards the West, because he is from a developing country himself,” he said.
“I hope the new pope will ... engage more in dialogue and not confrontation. We believe this is a new chapter in the history of relations between Muslims and Catholics,” he said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he hoped Francis would continue to promote inter-faith talks.