Pope Francis spends first hours as leader of Catholic Church in prayer; has brief meeting with Cardinal Bernard Law

ROME — With the humility and quiet humor that have become his calling card, Pope Francis, in his first day as pontiff, made several visits to important shrines in Rome and checked out of his residence, making sure to pay the bill.

Shortly after 8 a.m., the pope went to Saint Mary Major Basilica where he sat in silent prayer and also prayed at the main altar where what is believed to be the relics of the manger where Jesus Christ was born are kept.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi today confirmed that during his visit to Saint Mary Major, Francis “discreetly’’ greeted Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who was the archpriest of the basilica before he retired from that post.

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Law stepped down in 2003 as the archbishop of Boston after failing to remove sexual predator priests from their pastoral posts in the archdiocese.

Francis, a Jesuit, also stopped at an altar where the founder of his religious order, Saint Ignatius of Loyola once celebrated Mass.

Lombardi said he was very surprised last night not only about the man and where he came from but also how he presented himself. The pope chose the name Francis after Saint Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan order to which Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s Capuchin order belongs.

Lombardi said that last night after he was selected pope, Francis chose to leave on the bus on which he and the other cardinals came to the Vatican, not the special car reserved for the pope.

After dinner with the cardinals, he accepted a toast and quipped, “May God forgive you for what you have done.’’

This morning on the ride to Saint Mary Major, Francis also eschewed the papal car and instead traveled in a regular car with an escort by Vatican police. On his way back to the Vatican he stopped at the residence where he has been staying to collect his bags and insisted on paying the bill for his rooms.

“He was concerned about giving an example about what priests and bishops should do,’’ Lombardi said.

Lombardi said because Francis spoke by telephone with the former Pope Benedict last night he will not go to visit him at Castel Gandolfo today or tomorrow, but will make the visit at some point in the future.