Friday, March 15, 2013

March 14/15, 2013

It was a perfectly glorious sunny day here in Rome. People were out on the streets and the damp gloom that hung over the Eternal City has broken. The shops were already filled with prayer cards and post cards bearing the image of Pope Francesco. As you can see from the attached shot, the Rome city council has even commissioned its own posters to welcome the new Pope.

The media is captivated by Pope Francis. And why shouldn’t they be? The humble Pope with a heart for the poor is a powerful image. One minute he paying his own bill at the priest’s house where he resided before the conclave, the next he is dashing down the stairs with his bags in hand.

Security officials tell me they have been chuckling to themselves as Pope Francis gently vetoes their procedures for moving a pope from one location to another. Others in the Vatican are not chuckling at all. These tiny gestures-- the subverting of business as usual here; the resistance to Vatican protocol--are sending a striking message to those who work in the curia. This is a pope with his own ideas and change is coming- big change. There is another perspective on this, however. A very wise priest pointed out to me the other night that the Petrine office is more than the man occupying it and there are good and established reasons for the traditions and protocols surrounding a Holy Father. Whether it is the review of texts, security, or various liturgical customs, all these things exist to protect the Pope and to advance his mission. We’ll see how the new Pope reconciles his old ways with this new environment. But in the meantime, Pope Francis’s independent spirit is fun to watch and could become increasingly important in the days ahead.

One question that I have been pondering all day is this: If the justification for Benedict XVI’s retirement was to make way for a younger more vibrant man, why did the cardinals elect a 76-year-old, slow moving man with one lung? (The Pope lost his other lung following an infection as a teenager ). During his address to the cardinals today the Pope seemed to answer this question indirectly.

In a speech that was partially written, partially improvised Pope Francis said: "Dear Brother, take strength!... Half of us are in old age: old age is - I like to say so - the seat of wisdom. Old people have walked into the wisdom of life, such as the aged Simeon, the aged Anna at the Temple. And that wisdom made them recognize Jesus. We give this wisdom to the young people: good wine, which over the years becomes good, we give young people the knowledge of life. I am reminded of what a German poet of old said: 'Es ist ruhig, das Alter, und fromm'' it is the time of peace and prayer. And also to give young people this wisdom. You will now return to your sees to continue your ministry enriched by the experience of these days, so full of faith and of ecclesial communion. Such a unique and incomparable experience, has allowed us to deeply understand the beauty of the Church and that it is a reflection of the splendor of the Risen Christ: one day we'll look at that beautiful face of the Risen Christ. "

The speech today had shades of the impromptu homily offered during his first papal Mass in the Sistine Chapel yesterday. The Gospel reading contained one of my favorite lines in Scripture: “The stone rejected by the builders has become the corner stone…” For Pope Francis there is great biographical resonance in those lines. When he attempted to reform the Jesuits as provincial in Argentina in the 1970’s he encountered severe resistance from within and was exiled to northern Argentina for his efforts. Later he would become a bishop and eventually Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Bergoglio has suffered for advancing reform and still he pressed forward. We are likely to see him move to reform of the curia in similar fashion, heedless of the consequences. Some members of the Jesuit order are reportedly trembling over his ascension for obvious reasons. There were a few powerful lines at the end of the homily that I think capture Francis’ agenda: “I would like that everyone, after these days of grace, should have the courage, truly the courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the cross of the Lord; to build up the Church upon the blood of the Lord that was shed upon the cross; and to confess the only glory: Christ crucified. And in this way the Church will move forward.”

We had a fantastic World Over last night: Cardinal Francis George of Chicago was perceptive and fascinating as always. During the show he alluded to the fact that Bergoglio’s name bubbled up during the voting in the Sistine Chapel and was not on many lists before the conclave. Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, said Pope Francis’ candidacy just “came about out of the blue” and his vote count kept rising. Many cardinals I have spoken with have referenced Bergoglio’s brief address during the General Congregations as a decisive moment for them. Whatever he said, it left an impression. Here is a link to this week’s World Over in case you missed it:

Mary Matalin, Msgr. Christopher Nalty, Kathryn Lopez, a few other pals and myself had a quick snack last night. Mary made the very sage point that Francis by reviving the faith of Latin America could, like John Paul, reverse the horrible political situation in so many of those countries. Marxism has persisted for decades in various iterations there. Perhaps a spiritual renaissance is the answer to the problems that have long dogged the south. It is a fascinating thought in any event.

It is late here, nearly one AM. I have to get up early to attend the Pope’s audience with journalists, so I should get some sleep. I will carry all of you in my heart as I enter the Paul VI Hall tomorrow and send my impressions along in the next diary entry.

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  1. Excellent review! I bet the Jesuits are trembling, "The Rock," is back, bigger & stronger than ever! I do wonder if the many who are calling so loudly for reform, really mean it? Are they really ready for change or rather a reverse of former changes, which it appears Pope Francis is aiming at -- does anybody really want it? The world is in so much turmoil, it seems that many do, especially the youth of today -- I think they are getting tired of the adults with our sometimes petty warmongering, and political agendas! Btw, people are returning to the church in droves, myself included and feel so good!:)

  2. God bless you, Raymond! Safe travels.