On Saturday, Pope Francisco Bergoglio, giving his clearest indication yet that he wants a more austere Catholic Church, said that it should be poor, and to remember that its mission is to serve the poor. Francisco, speaking mostly off-the-cuff and smiling often, made his comments in an audience for journalists where he explained why he chose to take the name Francisco, after Francesco d’Assisi, a symbol of peace, austerity, and poverty. He called Francesco “a man who gives us this spirit of peace, a poor man”, and added, “Oh, how I’d like a poor Church, one that’s for the poor”.
Since his election on Wednesday as the first non-European pope in nearly 1,300 years, Francisco signalled a sharp change of style from his predecessor, Benedict XVI Ratzinger, and laid out a clear moral path for his 1.2-billion-member church, beset by scandals, intrigue, and strife. He thanked the thousands of journalists who covered his election, but invited them to “always try to better understand the true nature of the church, and its journey in the world, with its virtues and with its sins”. He urged journalists to seek “truth, goodness and beauty” in the world and in the Church.
Francisco has set a forceful moral tone and given clear signs already that he’d bring a new broom to the crisis-hit papacy, favouring humility and simplicity over pomp and grandeur. He recalled how on Wednesday night, as he was receiving more and more votes in the conclave, the cardinal sitting next to him, Cláudio Hummes, OFM, a Brazilian, comforted him “as the situation became dangerous”. After the voting reached the two-thirds majority that elected him, applause broke out. Hummes, 78, then hugged and kissed him and told him, “Don’t forget the poor”, the pope recounted, often gesturing with his hands. “That word entered here”, he added, pointing to his head.
Whilst the formal voting continued, the pope recalled, “I thought of wars… of how Francesco (d’Assisi) was a man of peace… that’s how the name entered my heart. Francesco d’Assisi, for me, is a man of poverty, a man of peace, a man who loves and protects others”. It was the latest indication that the pope wanted the worldwide Church to take on an austere style.
On the night that the conclave elected him, he shunned a papal limousine and travelled on a bus with the other cardinals. He went to the church-run hotel where he’d stayed before the conclave and he insisted on paying the bill. Francisco, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, also urged Argentineans not to make costly trips to Rome to see him, but to give the money to the poor instead.
Pope Francisco celebrated his first Mass as the First Hierarch of the Roman Catholic Church the morning after his election as pontiff. The new Bishop of Rome arrived at the Sistine Chapel accompanied by the 114 cardinals who attended the Conclave. White smoke billowed above St Peter’s Square on Wednesday. It took the conclave two days and five ballots to decide in favour of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
As the Vatican prepares for the coronation ceremony set for 19 March, the authorities are getting ready to receive delegations from most countries of the world. A parliamentary delegation led by RF Gosduma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin and an MP delegation headed by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, the head of the MP DECR, will represent Russia. President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev sent congratulations to Pope Francisco. In his message, His Holiness urged Orthodox and Catholic believers to consolidate their efforts to protect persecuted Christians around the world and to defend moral values in contemporary society.
Expert Yekaterina Santoni-Sinitsyna commented on preparations for the enthronement ceremony, saying, “I’ve met with Vatican Press Secretary Fr Federico Lombardi. At 11.00 on Saturday, Pope Francisco has a meeting with social service workers and journalists. On Tuesday, 19 March, the feastday of St Joseph the Worker, he’ll serve his first public Mass in St Peter’s Square. The coronation will take place at the end of the Mass”.
The coronation ceremony will follow a pattern established in the 1970s, under Pope Paul VI Montini, who abolished the dogma that the pope represents God on Earth. Since then, it’s been common belief that the pontiff is successor of St Peter, the first Bishop of Rome. Pope Paul VI also abolished the use of the triple tiara in the papal coronation. Yekaterina Santoni-Sinitsyna said, “A papal coronation is held in St Peter’s Square. Pope John Paul I Luciani was the first to go through it. The ceremony’s regalia-related rituals include the laying-on of a stole, expression of obedience on the part of the cardinals, and the Fisherman’s Ring rite. The inauguration ends with a blessing to all present from the pontiff”.
Believers throughout the world, including in Russia, have followed the events surrounding Pope Francisco closely. Fr Kirill Gorbunov of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, noted, “Relations between Orthodox and Catholic believers are beyond the personal, irrespective of the personality of the incumbent pontiff or patriarch. These relations have a connection with the history of the church and its purpose… a persistent search for unity with God. It’s all God’s will. Nevertheless, I’m sure that Pope Francisco will take steps towards unification of the churches”.
The name Francisco is new to the history of Catholic pontificate. History knows only two religious figures by the name of Francisco. One was Francesco d’Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order, which commanded to live in poverty and homily, care for the sick and vow strict obedience to the pontiff. The other was Francisco Xavier, a Roman Catholic missionary and co-founder of the Society of Jesus. The incumbent pontiff is the first Jesuit pope in the history of the Holy See. Catholics venerate both Franciscos as reformers. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is a consistent opponent of abortion, euthanasia, and gay marriage. At the same time, he advocated the use of condoms to prevent infection and criticised priests who refused to baptise children born out of wedlock. Clerical celibacy remains open to debate. Experts believe that abolition of clerical celibacy could eradicate paedophilia in the church. However, nothing is clear about the moves the new pontiff shall make regarding the Vatican Bank and the so-called Vatileaks scandal.
Fr Antoni Sevruk, rector of the Russian Orthodox Church of St Catherine the Great Martyr in Rome, told VOR that his parish in Rome has high hopes for cooperation and dialogue with Pope Francisco. Fr Antoni said, “St Catherine Church at the Russian Embassy is a ten-minute walk from the Holy See and enjoys the warmest ties with its Catholic neighbours. I had a chance to meet with former Pope Benedict XVI a couple of times, and I particularly remember our last meeting, when Benedict asked me a lot about our parish and community, about our social and charity work. I saw that he was really into it. Actually, the windows of his study overlooked St Catherine Church”.
Recently, the number of Orthodox communities has grown in Italy; now, they there are about 60. Italy doesn’t have that many Orthodox churches, but Catholic priests are always happy to provide a venue for Orthodox services. Today, Orthodox believers are a little bit concerned about potential changes linked to the new pope. Francisco has read Dostoevsky and often visited Orthodox services in the Russian Orthodox Annunciation Cathedral in Buenos Aires. Fr Antoni went on to say, “Besides which, the pontiff is also known as an advocate of the Orthodox Church in the Argentine government. Now, people are anticipating the pope’s first homily scheduled for Sunday. Sure, we need time get to know the new pope better. We have every hope that he will continue Benedict’s polices in terms of interreligious dialogue”.
On Saturday, the Vatican said that Pope Francisco would visit his predecessor Benedict XVI on 23 March for the first time since his election. The new pope, former Argentinean cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, will travel by helicopter to the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, where Benedict has stayed since his historic resignation last month. Vatican sources told us that the two men would have lunch together at the residence outside Rome. Last month, Benedict, 85, became the first pope to resign in the last 700 years, when he ended his eight-year reign, saying that he was no longer up to the rigours of the job. Francisco was a surprise choice in this week’s conclave triggered by Benedict’s resignation. The two men know each other well. Many believe that Bergoglio, 76, was the runner-up to the German in the 2005 election.
16 March 2013
Voice of Russia World Service