Yesterday, on the first Sunday of Pope Francis' pontificate, the new pontiff was very definitely Bishop of Rome – although for a time in the morning he seemed to be firstly the Vatican's parish priest.
In the morning he celebrated Mass at the church of Sant'Anna, the Vatican's little gem of a church just inside the Porta di Sant'Anna, dressed in a surplice so simple that it could have been that of any parish priest.
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Mass at St. Anne's Parish within Vatican
It was the kind of thing my parish priest would do at home – get back up at the end to say something that was on his mind or to congratulate a parishioner. For a pope to do this it was, well, extraordinary.
Afterward, still in his vestments, he greeted the congregation at the church door. Were it not for the cameras, and the purple-sashed attendants, this really could have been any Sunday parish scene.
After changing back into his papal vestments, he then walked out of the Porta Sant'Anna, leaving the Vatican for a few minutes to shake hands with people contained behind the barrier on the road to St Peter's Square.
"Mercy," said Pope Francis in his off-the-cuff homily, "is the Lord’s greatest message." That was his theme, also, when he appeared at the usual window in the papal apartments for the Angelus. The crowd was reckoned to be 300,000 – larger, even, than the crowds on Wednesday night – and in a jubilant mood. He had a clear theme that he repeated a number of times – that God never tires of forgiving us, but we tire of asking him – and managed to mix in humor and anecdotes. Again, I was struck by the vigor and vitality of our new pope – and his great preaching skills.
But one thing puzzled me. He used no other languages, as Benedict XVI always did in his Angelus. Nor did he on Saturday, in his meeting with journalists, apart from the brief blessing at the end in Spanish – which was possibly, many here think, not intended to be so, but which just slipped out.
What's going on? Is the Bishop of Rome establishing his local roots, identifying firstly with his new city? Will the languages come later, once those roots are firmer? Or is this part of the new, simple style? I will try to get answers today.
Austen Ivereigh, who is blogging for us from Rome on the papal transition, is a British Catholic journalist, commentator and director of Catholic Voices (www.catholicvoices.org.uk). A former communications director to the Archbishop emeritus of Westminster (England), Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, he accompanied the cardinal to Rome in 2005 for the funeral of Pope John Paul II and election of Pope Benedict XVI. He is the author of "How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice" (OSV, $13.95).