|Pope Francis strokes blind man's|
dog at meeting with journalists
The answer is: engaging, funny, disarming, compelling. They loved him.
Later I was asked on BBC News if I didn't think there was a danger in the journalists being a little awestruck by the pope, as if in the presence of a rock star, and might lose their objectivity? (I am confident that this is the first time I have been asked that question.)
A striking personalityThe energy of the man, as well as his confident stride and emphatic gestures, are all the more striking because of the contrast with Benedict XVI's gentle and frail manner in recent years. But we also saw today how confident he is in leaving aside the stiffness and rigidity of protocol. After Cardinal Claudio Celli of the Council for Social Communications "presented" the audience to him, the pope spontaneously stood up from his chair and walked across the stage to embrace him. This "moving out towards others," rather than remaining fixed to the spot and waiting to be addressed, reinforces everything Greg Erlandson spotted in that first encounter from the balcony of the loggia of St Peter's on Wednesday night.
The first part of the talk was a fervorino in which he thanked us for our work while not missing the opportunity to teach us something about the nature of the Church. There were no platitudes, only some well thought-through comments about the challenges of reporting on a body whose logic was spiritual rather than political or economic, and making it comprehensible to a mass audience. But acknowledging the Church's true nature was the only way of reporting on it with integrity. The Church, he said, is "the People of God, the Holy People of God making its way to encounter Jesus Christ. Only from this perspective can a satisfactory account be given of the Church’s life and activity."
He then reminded an audience of journalists who had been reporting on the change of popes where the real story had been all the time.
Very emphatically, he pointed out that "Christ remains the center, not the Successor of Peter: Christ, Christ is the center. Christ is the fundamental point of reference, the heart of the Church. Without him, Peter and the Church would not exist or have reason to exist."
In the same way, he went on, the real protagonist of the story of the last weeks has been the Holy Spirit – guiding Benedict XVI in his decision to resign for the good of the Church, and in guiding the cardinals who assembled to elect his successor.
He then sought to make a connection with the media in a very beautiful way. The Church, he said, "highly esteems your important work" and understands that it called "careful preparation, sensitivity and experience, like so many other professions, but it also demands a particular concern for what is true, good and beautiful.”"
He added: "This is something which we have in common, since the Church exists to communicate precisely this: Truth, Goodness and Beauty 'in person.'"
The name FrancisAt this point he put aside his text and told us why he chose the name Francis, giving journalists what we most need: a great story, told with vivid detail and personal touches.
At the end, he welcomed, one by one, much as he did the cardinals on Friday, members of the Vatican communications team, as well as some lucky reporters whose names were picked randomly to represent the thousands there.
Among them was a blind man, with a guide dog. It seemed too perfect that a pope named after St. Francis of Assisi would be seen, on his first major public appearance, with an animal; I couldn't help recalling that pigeon perched on the chimney of the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday night, shortly before the white smoke.
Never having seen a pope with a dog before, I prayed rather earnestly that Pope Francis would stroke, or at least acknowledge, the golden Labrador whose tail was wagging. (He did.)
And at the end this most communicative of popes – who as Archbishop of Buenos Aires was so famous for refusing interviews that the journalists joked that his spokesman's task was to interpret his silences –respectfully acknowledged that the room had within it non-believers as well as believers, saying: "I cordially give this blessing silently, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each, but in the knowledge that each of you is a child of God."
Afterwards, the faces of even the most streetwise, hardened hack was wreathed in smiles.