VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Friday called for more intense dialogue between religious leaders, particularly Muslims, as he tries to recalibrate relations between the world’s two largest religious groups.
Speaking in the Vatican’s majestic Sala Regia, the Argentine pontiff said that part of his mission is to connect “all people, in such a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister.”
In a meeting with Vatican diplomats and foreign leaders, Francis also reaffirmed the church’s commitment to protect the poor and the environment, an early theme in his young pontificate.
“Fighting poverty, both material and spiritual, building peace and constructing bridges: these, as it were, are the reference points for a journey that I want to invite each of the countries here represented to take up,” the pope said.
Even as a non-Catholic, I was filled with hope when an Argentine cardinal said to be passionate about serving the poor stepped onto the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square as Pope Francis.
By taking the name of a church reformer, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio promised a better day for an ossified institution whose people beg for hope while hierarchs defend medieval power and pomp.
By standing in silence and bowing his head for the crowd’s blessing, Francis showed a humility that could inspire believers grown weary of Roman arrogance. In greeting the crowd, the new pope showed a common touch that could repurpose a global movement from being lost in scandal and self-serving.
Editor's Note: Pope Francis delivered the following homily at his inaugural Mass on Tuesday, emphasizing the need to protect the poor and the environment.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I thank the Lord that I can celebrate this Holy Mass for the inauguration of my Petrine ministry on the solemnity of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the patron of the universal Church. It is a significant coincidence, and it is also the name-day of my venerable predecessor: we are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude.
I offer a warm greeting to my brother cardinals and bishops, the priests, deacons, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful. I thank the representatives of the other Churches and ecclesial Communities, as well as the representatives of the Jewish community and the other religious communities, for their presence. My cordial greetings go to the Heads of State and Government, the members of the official Delegations from many countries throughout the world, and the Diplomatic Corps.
In the Gospel we heard that "Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife" (Mt 1:24). These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: "Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model" (Redemptoris Custos, 1).
How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis issued a powerful call for the protection of the environment and of society’s most vulnerable during his formal installation Mass at the Vatican, while qualifying his papal power as a “service” to the church and to humanity.
The pope on Tuesday celebrated a solemn Mass in St. Peter’s Square in front of an estimated 200,000 people, as well as political and religious leaders from all over the world.
During the Mass, Francis received the symbols of his papal authority over the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics: the pallium, a lamb’s wool stole that recalls Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and the “ring of the fisherman.”
In keeping with the low-key style that has been the hallmark of his pontificate so far, Francis presided over a somewhat simpler, and definitely shorter, rite than the one that marked the start of Benedict XVI’s reign in 2005.
Francis was slowly driven around a sun-drenched St. Peter’s Square in an open-top car, shunning the bulletproof, air-conditioned popemobile preferred by his predecessors. At one point, he asked to stop the car and got out to bless a disabled person.
In his homily, delivered in Italian, Francis described the church’s mission as “respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live.”
Last Sunday night, the Rev. Thomas Rosica was walking through the Piazza Navona in Rome’s historic center when he bumped into Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who he has known for years. Bergoglio was walking alone, wearing a simple black cassock and he stopped and grabbed Rosica’s hands.
He had reason to be worried. Two days later, on Tuesday evening, he and 114 other cardinals entered the conclave to elect a successor to Benedict XVI; a little more than 24 hours and five ballots after that, Bergoglio emerged on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica as Pope Francis. “I want you to pray for me,” the Argentine cardinal told Rosica, a Canadian priest who was assisting as a Vatican spokesman during the papal interregnum. Rosica asked him if he was nervous. “A little bit,” Bergoglio confessed.
It was a surprising outcome, and even if Bergoglio suspected something was up, few others did, including many of the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel with him.
Only a day into his papacy, and I’ve got to admit, Pope Francis has my attention. In an editorial piece on the Sojourners website today, Jim Wallis cited a surprising and very heartening quote from the new pontiff, especially for those looking in from the outside as non-Catholics. Here’s an excerpt from one of his first public addresses:
“We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church. It’s true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that’s sick because it’s self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former.”
In 1974, when the Rev. Jorge Bergoglio was the top Jesuit in his native Argentina, a former nightclub dancer named Isabel Peron came to head the nation – an accidental and weak president.
Isabel Peron served less than two years in office before a right-wing military coup placed her under house arrest, and launched a seven-year campaign of torture and killings of tens of thousands of trade unionists and other leftists: Argentina’s Dirty War.
Jesuits are bound by oath not to seek higher office in the Roman Catholic Church, and now one of them has been elected to its highest office: Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Pontifex Maximus.
With the words “Habemus papam” — we have a pope — Roman Catholics had a new leader, and the wider world had a new ministry to watch.
The direction the new pope takes his flock is of great importance for committed Catholics, but the papacy is also closely watched by other faiths. The pope wields vast influence as the world’s most powerful moral leader and the public face of Christianity.
Leaders of other faiths appeared to embrace the selection cautiously, not unlike some Catholics themselves, offering prayers and congratulations, but also using the opportunity to lay out their own hopes for the new pontiff. Pope Francis of Buenos Aires, formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, emerged from the conclave as the first pope from outside Europe in modern times, the first Jesuit, the first from Latin America, and the first named Francis, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, who dedicated his life to helping the poor.
When I heard about the white smoke on Wednesday, I wrote on my Facebook wall: “Habent Papum.” My own church doesn’t use Latin, so I had to use Google translate to figure out how to change the “We have a pope” of “Habemus Papam” into “They have a pope.” I got a few good laughs for my cleverness before a Catholic friend humbly reminded me that it wasn’t just their pope, and that I’d have to deal with him too ... he has no idea how prophetic his words have turned out to be.
You see, I didn’t expect to tune in at all to the election of the pope. I was raised in the Catholic Church and received its early sacraments before my family joined the Episcopal Church (my father’s tradition). I spent plenty of time in high school and after defending its practices and traditions against atheists and Protestant friends and colleagues, and I more than made up for that by pressing hard on my Catholic friends on the nuances I didn’t understand. But mostly I only paid attention when the Catholic Church said something publicly or took a political stand on an issue I cared about.
But on Wednesday, the white smoke got in my eyes, and rather than confusing my sight, it’s made things a little clearer.