When you’re the pope, few things matter as much as what you say and, especially, where you say it.
From the pulpit of St. Peter’s Basilica or an outdoor altar erected in St. Peter’s Square, popes can command global media attention. Pope Francis, however, has settled in with a smaller congregation for his homilies that’s more in keeping with his low-key style.
Every day at 7 a.m., Francis celebrates Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican’s hotel-style guesthouse he has chosen to call home instead of the luxurious papal apartments. His brief, colorful homilies are delivered to small groups of Vatican workers, from policemen to doctors and bank employees.
From the very first moment of his unexpected election as Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina has embraced a series of small departures from established tradition.
He took his papal name from a great nonconforming saint of the Middle Ages — and one that no other pope in the history of the Roman Catholic Church has taken. He then refused to stand on an elevated platform that would separate him from his “brother cardinals,” and asked the people of Rome to bless him rather than receive his blessing. He even insisted on returning to his hotel to settle his account (as though his credit were in any doubt).
Everyone who knew Bergoglio saw in him an unconventional and even unpredictable figure. He lived in Buenos Aires in a modest apartment rather than in the archbishop’s palace. He dispensed with a private limousine and took public transportation to work. He even cooked his own meals at home in his own kitchen.
Now, as pope, he has continued this pattern by ignoring long-settled traditions of what a pope should wear, where he should reside, and how he should conduct himself in public functions. Francis has chosen not wear the gold papal cross to which he is entitled, instead wearing the more simple cross he wore in Argentina. He also seems satisfied with normal men’s footwear, avoiding the elegant red loafers Pope Benedict normally wore in public.
Pope Francis has won widespread acclaim thus far in his nascent papacy with popular gestures like washing the feet of juveniles during Holy Week and refusing many papal perks. But now comes the hard part of his new job: reforming the Vatican.
The Roman Curia, as the central administration of the Catholic Church is known, has been riven by scandals and allegations of infighting and careerism, which helped undermine Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s reign and reportedly pushed him to resign.
The dysfunction was so bad that reforming the Curia became a rallying cry for many cardinals at the conclave that elected Francis. But will he deliver on the promise of reform?
He has been Pope Francis for less than a month, but the keep-it-simple prelate from Argentina is a wow with American Catholics — at least for now.
The tables may turn on Francis once media attention moves from his no-fuss style to his substantive actions, said a Vatican expert Wednesday.
The former archbishop of Buenos Aires has an 84 percent favorable rating among U.S. Catholics, including 43 percent who hold a very favorable view of him, according to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
The Vatican on Friday dismissed criticism of Pope Francis’ decision to wash the feet of two women during a Maundy Thursday Mass at a Rome youth prison.
The move has come under fire from Catholic traditionalists who say that the rite is a re-enactment of Jesus washing the feet of the 12 apostles before his death, and thus should be limited only to men.
Traditionally, popes have washed the feet of 12 priests during a solemn Mass in Rome’s St. John Lateran Basilica.
Pope Francis on Thursday washed the feet of 12 young inmates, including two girls and two Muslims, during a Maundy Thursday Mass at a youth detention center in Rome.
The Argentine pontiff, who has shown an eagerness to break with tradition in the two weeks since his election to the papacy on March 13, chose to celebrate the rite in the Casal del Marmo prison in northwest Rome, rather than in the traditional venue of the St. John Lateran Basilica.
Francis has repeatedly stated his desire to bring the papacy and the church closer to the poor and the marginalized.
In his first general audience since his election to the papacy, Pope Francis on Wednesday urged Catholics to leave their comfort zone to search for “lost sheep.”
As the Catholic Church prepares for Easter and celebrates the rites of Holy Week, Francis told around 20,000 people in St. Peter’s Square to avoid “a tired and routine way of living the faith,” and resist “the temptation to withdraw into pre-established patterns that end up closing our horizon” to God.
“We must not be content to remain in the enclosure of the 99 sheep; we have to step outside, to search for the lost sheep,” he added, referring to a parable of Jesus.
VATICAN CITY — Shunning the spacious papal apartment used by his predecessors, Pope Francis has chosen to continue living in the Vatican guesthouse where he has been staying since the beginning of the conclave.
The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, explained on Tuesday that Francis will live “until further notice” in a suite in the Santa Martha Residence, a modern Vatican guesthouse for priests and bishops who work in the Roman Curia or who are visiting the Vatican for meetings and conferences.
Francis made his intentions clear on Tuesday morning, while celebrating Mass in the residence’s chapel for its permanent guests, who occupy about half of the residence’s 130 or so rooms.
The pontiff’s choice is a consequence of his desire to adopt a “simple” living arrangement that allows him “to live in community” with other priests and bishops, Lombardi explained.
Since the moment of his election on March 13, Pope Francis has been warmly embraced by his own flock and even the media and the wider public in a way his bookish predecessor, Benedict XVI, was not.
Such an effusive welcome is especially good news for Catholic leaders who spent years fending off criticism of Vatican dysfunction under Benedict and a cloud of scandal and crisis at home. And the hot start for Francis is also crucial in building up a reservoir of good will that will be needed when the new pope refuses to bend on unpopular teachings or commits a gaffe of his own. Polls show that anywhere from 73 percent to 88 percent of American Catholics say they are happy with the selection of Francis, as opposed to about 60 percent who were happy with the choice of Benedict — and many of those are extremely pleased with the new pope.
Now that the cardinals have elected and installed their new boss, Pope Francis can get to work being the Roman Catholic pontiff, with his next order of business doing something no other pope has done in centuries: meet the guy he replaced.
Benedict’s resignation — the first by a pope in 600 years — paved the way for the conclave that elected Francis on March 13, but it also created an almost unprecedented potential for confusion and division in a church hierarchy that has room for only one pope at a time.That will happen on Saturday, when Francis is scheduled to travel a few miles outside Rome to the hilltop town of Castel Gandolfo, the summer papal residence where Benedict XVI has been staying — out of sight — since he resigned and left the Vatican on Feb. 28.
“Benedict XVI could turn into a shadow pope who has stepped down but can still exert indirect influence,” said Hans Kung, the dissident Swiss theologian and friend (as well as frequent critic) of Benedict’s since he and the former Joseph Ratzinger were up-and-coming theologians.