In March and April, the Church recalls two important events from recent years: 1) the election of Pope Francis as Pope on March 13, 2013, nine years ago; and the 95th birthday of Emeritus Pope Benedict on April 16…
“For me he is a man of God, a humble man, a man of prayer. I was so happy when he was elected Pope.” —Pope Francis, speaking about Pope Benedict XVI on July 28, 2013, four months after he was elected Pope on March 13, 2013
We celebrate two important ecclesial events in the two months covered in this issue, March and April of 2022.
The first is the ninth anniversary of the election of Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, four weeks after Benedict XVI resigned the papal throne. Francis has thus now been Pope for nine years.
The second is the 95th birthday of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, which will fall on April 16, 2022 — so we chose to put Benedict on the cover, and to publish contributions from authors around the world to wish the retired pontiff “Happy Birthday.”
Then, I thought I might make use of this space to allow Pope Francis to speak in his own voice. I take these quotations from a press conference Francis gave on July 28, 2013, on the airplane back from World Youth Day in Brazil. His words give a revealing and precious insight into his mind at the time.
Francis was asked why he chose to make one of the most striking decisions of his pontificate: to live in the Domus Santa Marta guesthouse, and not in the Apostolic Palace (which has remained empty throughout these nine years).
Pope Francis: “But I could not live alone in the Palace… I cannot live alone or with just a few people! I need people, I need to meet people, to talk to people. And that’s why when the children from the Jesuit schools asked me: ‘Why did you do that? For austerity, for poverty?’ No, it was for psychological reasons, simply, because psychologically I can’t do otherwise. Everyone has to lead his own life, everyone has his own way of living and being.” He continued: “The Cardinals who work in the Curia do not live wealthy, opulent lives: they live in small apartments, they are austere, they really are austere. The ones I know, the apartments that APSA provides for the Cardinals. Then it seems to me that there is something else I wanted to say. Everyone has to live as the Lord asks him to live. But austerity — general austerity — I think it is necessary for all of us who work in the service of the Church. There are many shades of austerity… everyone must seek his own path… There are saints in the Curia. And there are some who are not so saintly, and these are the ones you tend to hear about… One thing — I’ve never said this before, but I have come to realize it — I think that the Curia has fallen some what from the level it once had, in the days of the old curialists… the profile of the old curialist, faithful, doing his work. We need these people… there are some, but not as many as there once were… We need more of them.”
Ada Messia of CNN asked: “When you met the young people from Argentina, maybe with tongue in cheek, maybe seriously, you told them that you too, at times, feel penned in. We would like to know what exactly you were referring to…”
Pope Francis: “You know how often I’ve wanted to go walking through the streets of Rome, because, in Buenos Aires, I liked to go for a walk in the city, I really liked to do that! In this sense, I feel a little penned in. I’d like to go out walking but I understand that it isn’t possible: I understand. That was what I meant. Because I used to be — as we say in Buenos Aires — a callejero, a street priest…”
Pablo Ordas from El País then asked: “We would like to know about your working relationship… with Benedict XVI…”
Pope Francis: “…There is one thing that describes my relationship with Benedict: I have such great affection for him. I have always loved him. For me he is a man of God, a humble man, a man of prayer.
“I was so happy when he was elected Pope. Also, when he resigned, for me it was an example of greatness. A great man. Only a great man does this! A man of God and a man of prayer. Now he is living in the Vatican, and there are those who tell me: “How can this be? Two Popes in the Vatican! Doesn’t he get in your way? Isn’t he plotting against you?” All these sorts of things, no? I have found a good answer for this: “It’s like having your grandfather in the house,” a wise grandfather. When families have a grandfather at home, he is venerated, he is loved, he is listened to…”
Then a reporter from Russia, Alexey Bukalov, asked him: “Holy Father, returning to ecumenism: today, the Orthodox are celebrating 1,025 years of Christianity, and there are great festivities in many capital cities. If you would comment on this, I would be grateful.”
Pope Francis: “In the Orthodox Churches, they have retained that pristine liturgy, which is so beautiful. We have lost some of the sense of adoration. The Orthodox preserved it; they praise God, they adore God, they sing, time does not matter. God is at the center, and I would like to say, as you ask me this question, that this is a richness.
“Once, speaking of the Western Church, of Western Europe, especially the older Church, they said this phrase to me: Lux ex oriente, ex occidente luxus. Consumerism, comfort, they have done such harm. Instead, you retain this beauty of God in the center, the reference point. When reading Dostoevsky — I believe that for all of us he is an author that we must read and reread due to his wisdom — one senses what the Russian soul is, what the eastern soul is. It is something that does us much good.
“We need this renewal, this fresh air from the East, this light from the East. John Paul II wrote about this in his Letter. But many times the luxus of the West makes us lose this horizon… These are the thoughts that come to me.”
Reading these words, it does seem that Pope Francis has indeed been “penned in” — by the global media, and by some progressive curialists, who have given all of us their version of his pontificate. The love of the mystical liturgy of the Orthodox, for example, is not at all expressed by Traditionis Custodes.
In any case, nine years of a papacy, and 95 years of a pilgrim life, come to a close this spring. May God protect, guide and bless both men, Pope Francis and Emeritus Pope Benedict