Pope Francis prays at Rome basilica

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Pope Francis prays for guidance at a Rome basilica on his first full day as pontiff.

The 76-year-old Argentine had barely been Pope for 12 hours when he quietly left the Vatican on Thursday morning to pray at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

Priests at the basilica said the visit was a surprise and that they had only been given 10 minutes warning that the new pope would be joining them.

Francis is taking the helm at a time of great crisis with morale among the faithful hit by scandals and infighting in the Vatican bureaucracy.

The 266th pontiff in the Church's history, Francis is the first to come from South America.