As the new Pope starts tackling the great challenges facing the Church, each situation featuring Pope Francis is being thoroughly analyzed and commented upon.
From the very first moment, Pope Francis has acted in unexpected ways, surprising all with his simplicity and humility. Some observe that this merely reflects his usual lifestyle; he is living the same simple way he lived as archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina. Still, the new pontiff’s new ways are drawing the attention of believers and non-believers alike.
In fact, the simple, genuine, unaffected way Pope Francis has spoken and lived during his first two months as Pope has carried a message: that the Church is not distant from ordinary people, but very near, right next door, as it were.
And in this sense, one can speak of a “Bergoglio-style.”
A Great Communicator
Evening had fallen on March 13 when the Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, made his timid appearance on the Loggia of Blessings to say good evening to the whole world.
In his first meeting with the public on the day of his election, former Cardinal Bergoglio won the hearts of the faithful crowding St. Peter’s Square in spite of the cold and rain.
From the moment he appeared, Pope Francis took an informal approach. His direct, colloquial style had a powerful impact.
In that, his first public appearance, he never referred to himself as Pope, but as the Bishop of Rome. And he spoke immediately of his predecessor, saying: “I would like to offer a prayer for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI.”
By calling himself Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis lessened the gap between himself and the crowd, as a bishop is more familiar and closer to the people than a Pope.
He then recited the three simplest prayers, the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be.
Before giving the papal blessing, he asked the crowd to pray for him:
“And now I would like to give the blessing,” Pope Francis said, “but first I ask a favor of you: before the Bishop blesses his people, I ask you to pray to the Lord that he will bless me: the prayer of the people asking the blessing for their Bishop. Let us make, in silence, this prayer: your prayer over me.”
A new gesture, a gesture of humility, communion and fraternity.
Then he dwelt again upon his role as a bishop: “And now, we take up this journey: Bishop and people. This journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches. A journey of fraternity, of love, of trust among us.”
His confidential style showed up again four days later, during his first Angelus, when Pope Francis greeted with joy the faithful who flooded into St. Peter’s Square in droves: “It’s beautiful,” the Holy Father said from the window of his studio, “and important for us Christians: to meet on Sundays, to greet each other, to speak to each other as we are doing now, in the square. A square which, thanks to the media, has global dimensions.”
Pope Francis spoke to the faithful of mercy, that mercy that “makes the world less cold and more just,” using simple words to bring his message home to everybody.
When he finally took leave of the faithful, he wished them a good Sunday and… a good lunch!
The New Style of a Spontaneous Man
Etiquette and protocol were soon broken by the new Pope.
He broke the mold by greeting and thanking people warmly with an embrace or a handshake.
Like any parish priest, Pope Francis stopped to say goodbye to the faithful who had just attended his first Mass in the parish church of St. Anne. He embraced them warmly and, almost slipping out of his bodyguard’s control, crossed the border of Vatican State to greet the faithful who had been waiting outside for him since the early morning.
On March 19, while on board a jeep driving around St. Peter’s Square, he had the car stopped so he could get off and mingle with the crowd; he shook hands with the faithful and caressed some children in their parents’ arms.
Later on the same day, he embraced Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople, during the exchange of the sign of peace at the inaugural Mass of his pontificate; it was a strong ecumenical embrace immortalized by photographers and television networks.
Bartholomew I was the first Orthodox Patriarch to attend the inauguration Mass of a pontificate since the 1054 schism. In an interview with L’Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, he declared that he had decided to come to Rome “after hearing the first message Francis addressed to the crowds following his election and his referring to himself as the Bishop of Rome. It was a very important gesture, of great ecumenical significance.”
A historic meeting then took place in Castel Gandolfo: Pope Francis met Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. He was photographed while approaching his predecessor, who embraced him with a smile. It was a meeting between two old friends.
Back in Rome, people acclaimed him, thronging behind the barriers, some holding Argentine flags. Each Wednesday, the day of the general audience, the Pope is driven around St. Peter’s in a jeep to greet the faithful and the children.
A Simple Man from the Ends of the Earth
For his first public appearances, the Holy Father is only wearing his white cassock and has not given up the iron cross he has been wearing since he became a bishop.
Only when it comes to giving the papal blessing does he put on the stole, which he takes off after kissing it.
The fisherman’s ring is the most important symbol of the papal ministry; the Pope received it with the pallium during the inaugural Mass of his pontificate.
But, in keeping with his line of simplicity, Pope Francis opted for a gilded silver ring depicting St. Peter with the keys, not a gold ring.
As for the well-known red shoes, they have a different destiny. As he refused to wear the red mozzetta on the evening of his election, so he has refused to wear the red shoes. For days photographers desperately tried to take a picture of Pope Francis wearing red shoes, but always found black shoes under his cassock, the ones he wore as a cardinal in Buenos Aires.
All these signs suggest that Francis’ “style” is becoming a matter of “substance.”
The director of the Vatican Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., gave further evidence of the Pope’s simplicity in an anecdote he reported during a briefing with journalists: while receiving homage from his cardinals, Pope Francis stood up instead of sitting on the throne which had been prepared for him before the altar.
The evening after his election, the Vatican spokesman added, the Holy Father returned to the Domus Sanctae Marthae by bus with the College of Cardinals instead of using his personal car, and at the end of the dinner with the cardinals he said, with humor tinged with seriousness: “God forgive you for what you’ve done.”
Choices with a Significant Impact
Among the new Pope’s unconventional decisions, the one which caused the biggest sensation was his refusal to move to the papal apartments. At the moment, he is staying in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the hotel where the cardinal electors stayed during the conclave and which normally hosts bishops, cardinals and nuncios.
“He is experimenting with this type of living arrangement, which is simple” but allows him “to live in community with others,” explained Father Lombardi.
The Vatican staff who attend the Mass he celebrates in the chapel of the Domus at
7 a.m. every day will certainly be happy about this.
A documentary by Rome Reports has shown another recent change introduced by Pope Francis: he has chosen to replace the traditional papal throne with a simple chair, the one used for his weekly general audiences, in his meetings with cardinals and diplomats. Also, it has been noticed that, during his meetings with religious leaders, the Pope used this same type of chair, and not elevated on a platform above his guests, but on the same level.
As the days went by, the press reported many details relating to Pope Francis, some of them not true. One such story has it that in the Room of Tears, the newly-elected Pope replied to the invitation of Master of Pontifical Ceremonies Monsignor Guido Marini to wear the red ermine-trimmed mozzetta over his white cassock with the words: “You wear this. The carnival is over.” The words were widely reported, but they are not in keeping with Pope Francis’ character. The Pope never said that.
The common thread in all of these actions and words is that the new Pope wishes to be close to his people, like a father to his children. Not distant, not far off, but near, able to speak and be spoken to, to embrace and be embraced, to act like a parish priest to the world.