Let us go back to that remarkable moment March 13 when Pope Francis was introduced to us on the balcony of St Peter's. In a moment when nothing can really be scripted, when the soul is in shock at what has transpired: going from one of 115 to the Supreme Pontiff and Vicar of Christ.
And at this moment, we saw some remarkable hints and intimations of what is to come.
|Newly elected Pope Francis waves|
after praying at basilica in Rome
Extraordinary in simplicityHis first words, "buona sera" (good evening), were informal and natural.
More striking was that in the first discourse of the new pope, he never used the word "pope." Instead, he described himself (and his predecessor) as "bishop of Rome."
He had a gentle sense of humor: "You know that the task of the conclave was to give Rome a bishop. It seems my brother cardinals went almost to the ends of the earth to find one."
Then he revealed that he envisioned himself first and foremost as a pastor: "The diocesan community of Rome has its bishop."
He prayed for his predecessor, but did not call him by the official title "pope emeritus." Some have been objecting to this title, since it immediately suggests two popes. Instead, Pope Francis called him "our bishop emeritus, Benedict XVI."
Then he led the entire Piazza in prayer, but it was prayer that all could join in rather than simply listen to, for this pastor led us all in the two prayers known by every Catholic: The Our Father and the Hail Mary. It was extraordinary in its simplicity. The square was one as it said "Nostro Padre, chi sei nei cieli …"
And then his meditation began, starting with the image of "journey," of a walk together, a pilgrimage of faith. "Now let's begin this journey, bishop and people …" It is a "journey of the church of Rome, which is the one that presides in charity over all the churches – a journey of brotherhood, love and trust among us." When he described this church, he describes it in both universal and local terms, invoking a context that goes back to Pope Gregory the Great, I'm told. It is both very Catholic and yet pastorally humble.
From here he goes directly to the mission of the Church, which is evangelization: "Let us pray for the whole world that there be a great brotherhood. I hope this journey of the church that we begin today – and I will be helped by my cardinal vicar, here present – will be fruitful for the evangelization of this so beautiful city." Standing next to the new bishop of Rome was the cardinal vicar of Rome, the man who runs the day to day affairs of this diocese. It was symbolically important that he be invited to share the balcony with Francis, again underscoring the pastoral and the local.
Remarkably humbleFinally, what I consider the glory of this brief conversation with his people: Francis preceded the famous Urbi et Orbi (the Church and the World) blessing with a request for a blessing. "Now I would like to give my blessing. But first, I will ask a favor. Before the bishop blesses his people, he asks that you pray to the Lord to bless me, the prayer of the people for the blessing of their bishop. Let's pray for me in silence."
Wow. This was really unprecedented, and the whole square became silent in prayer. Pope Francis had, with the first prayers for Benedict and then the prayer for himself, turned the square itself into a Church. It was remarkably humble and moving.
Then the conversation drew to a close: "Brothers and sisters, I'll leave you. Thank you so much for the welcome. Pray for me. We'll see each other soon. Tomorrow I want to go to pray to Mary so she would watch over all of Rome. Good night. Have a good rest." Even in these lines, a final note of paternal solicitude for his people, and of course the notation of his Marian devotion, for he would leave the next morning early to visit an icon venerated by the people of Rome in St. Mary Major, one of the city’s great basilicas.
I think this short spiritual conversation with his new diocese and with his people is revealing and inspiring. It bodes well of the approach of our new pope, our Franciscan Jesuit Pope!
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.