Francis One Year On

February 19 2014 | by

A YEAR has passed since that memorable March 13, 2013 when a relatively unknown Argentinean cardinal, Jorge Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to present himself to the world as Pope Francis, the 266th successor of St. Peter. Francis is the first Jesuit pope, the first pope from the Americas, the first pope from the southern hemisphere, and the first non-European pope since Pope Gregory III in 741.

The choice of a papal name is no small matter. One can glean the guiding principles and agenda that the new pope will pursue from the name he chooses. Jorge Bergoglio has chosen the name of Francis, and so he is also the first pope to be named in honour of the Poor Man of Assisi.

At the beginning of his conversion, Saint Francis had a vision in which God told him, “Go, Francis, and rebuild my Church, which is falling into ruin.” Jorge Bergoglio has confirmed that he chose to call himself after Saint Francis so that his pontificate might be inspired by the great evangelical ideals of poverty, humility, simplicity and total detachment from the things of the world. During the visit to Assisi, the birthplace of his namesake, on 4 October, Pope Francis reaffirmed that the Church must strip itself of all “vanity, arrogance and pride,” and humbly serve the poorest in society. Speaking in the hall where St. Francis threw off his robes in a gesture of humility, the Pope added, “without divesting ourselves, we would become pastry-shop Christians, like beautiful cakes and sweet things, but not real Christians.”


Bishop of Rome


The Holy Father signs all his documents simply with the word Francis, thus indicating a break from his predecessors, who would include the letters ‘PP’ after their names which stood for ‘Papa’ or ‘Pope’; moreover, Pope Francis has ordered that all his official portraits to be captioned simply with the word Francis.

Immediately after his election, protocol dictated that the cardinals pay homage to the newly elected pope by kneeling and kissing his hand while he would remain seated on a throne; Pope Francis rejected this procedure and simply greeted the cardinals standing with great affection.

Before stepping on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to present himself to the world, the Holy Father refused to wear the ‘mozzettta’, the short, elbow-length red vestment cape that covers the shoulders, a symbol of the pope’s royal status, and he also refused the gold papal pectoral cross in favour of the silver one used by cardinals, and likewise chose silver instead of gold for his piscatory ring (the ring with the image of St. Peter as a fisherman). Instead of addressing the crowd at St. Peter’s Square with the traditional papal salute ‘Praised be Jesus Christ’, he used the more simple formula ‘Brothers and sisters, good evening’, and introduced himself merely as the ‘Bishop of Rome’.


Paying the bill


At the end of the presentation, in the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing, Francis asked the crowd to pray for him, their bishop, and then with a humble gesture bowed his head for about 30 seconds as though to absorb the energy radiating to him from the faithful; at that moment, a spirit-filled silence fell on the crowd which made many weep with joy.

At the end of the ceremony, Francis and the cardinals returned to Domus Sanctae Marthae, where they were staying. The new pontiff had the deluxe papal car with the SCV 001 number plate waiting for him, but he refused that vehicle and instead returned with the other cardinals on a small bus.

At Santa Marta he dined with the cardinals as on the previous evenings, and on the following day he woke up as usual at 4:45 am. At ten to eight he left the Vatican for the Basilica of Saint Mary Major to pay homage to Our Lady. He once again refused to ride in the papal car, choosing to take a normal one used by the Vatican guards. He also asked that the police escort be reduced.

On his return trip to the Vatican, he circled back to Domus Internationalis Paulus VI where he had been staying in the days before the conclave to pay his bill.


Not for me


On 15 March, accompanied by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, then-Secretary of State, and other prelates, Francis visited the papal apartment at the Apostolic Palace; this is the place where his predecessors resided in the Vatican. The visit was even televised, and the footage shows the Holy Father walking hurriedly through the rooms with a serious expression on his face. It was then revealed that at the end of the visit, Francis, in his usual, forthright manner, said, to the astonishment of those present, “I am not coming here.” And so Pope Francis has remained at Santa Marta to this day.

A few months later, during an interview conducted by Antonio Spadaro, SJ, editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal, the Pope clarified, “When I took possession of the papal apartment, inside myself I distinctly heard a ‘no.’ The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace is not luxurious. It is old, tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious. But in the end it is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight. People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.”

Santa Marta is not a hotel; it is more like a home for elderly prelates. In Santa Marta Francis has refused to reserve a fixed place for himself in the dining room. When he arrives he walks through the tables, greets those present, and sits on the first table he finds. His apartment is on the second floor, at number 201. A lift was reserved especially for him, but he does not use it; instead, he employs the same lift others use, and if it happens to be full he simply waits until it returns empty.


Pontificate of service


On the day of the inaugural Mass of his pontificate, March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, Pope Francis arrived at St. Peter’s Square at 9:00 am in a simple, open jeep, from whence it was easier for the crowds to see and greet him. At a certain point the Pope told the driver to stop. Francis had seen someone he wanted to attend to personally: this was a tetraplegic man on a stretcher next to the barrier – a point of suffering among the jeering, joyous crowds. The Pope got off the vehicle, approached the man and embraced him with great sweetness, heedless of the fact that it was getting late for the ceremony. Then, during the celebration, Francis said, “Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. … Only those who serve with love are able to protect!”

On 28 March, 2013, Holy Thursday, Francis visited a juvenile detention centre in Rome. Kneeling on a stone floor, he washed, dried and kissed the feet of 12 inmates, including two young women, a Serbian Muslim and an Italian Catholic. “This is a symbol, it is a sign,” Francis told the prisoners, “washing your feet means I am at your service.”


Son of the Church


All this has led some to erroneously conclude that Pope Francis wants to overturn Church doctrine. Nothing however, could be further from the truth. Francis maintains that he is a ‘Son of the Church’ regarding loyalty to the Magisterium. For instance, he has defined abortion as ‘horrific’, and insists that women be valued, not clericalized.

Accordingly, he is against adoption by same-sex couples, and maintains that divorced and re-married Catholics may not receive Holy Communion, and has excommunicated a Catholic priest for Eucharistic sacrilege and heretical views.

Moreover, Pope Francis has reaffirmed the truth of spiritual facts that have been somewhat ignored lately, such as God’s tenderness and the influence of the devil in the life of the human person and in public institutions.

At a homily delivered at Santa Marta Chapel on Saturday, May 4 last year, Francis said, “There can be no dialogue with the prince of this world: let this be clear! Today, dialogue is necessary among us humans, it is necessary for peace… but with that prince, it is impossible to dialogue.”


The Francis Effect


Time magazine, naming Pope Francis its Person of the Year 2013, has signalled once again that our society still pays significant attention to the Catholic Church, and that her new leader is breathing life into her.

Over the past 50 years, Time has chosen three Catholic popes as its Person of the Year: John XXIII in 1963 and John Paul II in 1994, and now Francis. Curiously enough, the first two will be solemnly canonised next month.

Current Catholic and Vatican watchers see aspects of both these saintly popes in Francis. Since his election, he has attracted as much public acclamation and interest as both John and John Paul. Journalists have popularised the ‘Francis Effect’, a renewal of interest in attending the church and pride in Catholic identity, especially among lapsed members.

It its profile, Time has described Pope Francis as humble and compassionate, noting, however, that he stands as a sign of continuity and change, since he “has not changed the words, but he has changed the music.”


No turning back


Every morning the Pope says Mass in the chapel at Santa Marta. This ceremony is usually attended by about 30 people. After reading the Gospel, Francis delivers a brief but spirit-filled homily. These discourses, which are made public by religious and even the secular media, are becoming increasingly popular throughout the world. Through these meditations, Pope Francis delivers a sort of ‘catechism’ to the world.

Many believe that this Pope, in one sole year, has brought about so many changes within the Church that it is now impossible to turn back. Of course, many are critical and even scandalized by these innovations, and accuse Pope Francis of relinquishing his ‘royal’ status and the concept of the pontiff as ‘the Vicar of Christ on earth’. Such voices, however, are a minority, while the overall majority of Catholics, and even those outside the Church, are increasingly drawn and fascinated by our new shepherd in Rome.

Updated on October 06 2016