There’s a New Sheriff in Town

John Thavis reports on the first 24 hours of Pope Francis’ Papacy today. We saw much of the humbleness and simplicity of our new Pope last night on the Papal balcony. Here are some of my observations and then I’ll add some new events that John has informed us about:

1) Simplicity: The new Pope refused to don the red cape (mozetta) often associated with the pomp and circumstance of the Papal announcement. Secondly, he refused a new gold pectoral cross, continuing to wear the same one he wore as Bishop.

2) Humbleness: The Pope bowed and asked for our blessing as the people of God. That was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen a Pope do and a stark contrast to Benedict XVI’s congratulatory clasped hands of victory from when he was named and then the outstretched arms of both the now Pope Emeritus and Pope John Paul II. There is a marked contrast from their appearance where they seem to be saying “Here I am!” to Pope Francis’ more humble and gentle wave which said to me “Hi, I guess you are all here to see the Pope but instead you got me. Good evening.”

Even the simple greeting of “My brothers and sisters, Good evening!” And the self deprecation of “going to the end of the earth” to find a Pope screamed of “They picked little old me.”

3) Collegiality: My sense is that this a man who just wants everyone to get along. And he wants to be available to his brother Cardinals. He refused the Papal chair preferring to meet the Cardinals standing face to face. It had the feel of “I want to look these men in the eye and know them well.” John Thavis tells the one story that has made the media rounds and a few more.

After his blessing last night to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square and to the world, Vatican aides told the pope a limousine was waiting to take him to his temporary quarters in the Vatican’s residence building. The new pope said he’d rather take the bus back with the cardinals – and he did.

This morning, the pope’s first act was to leave the Vatican for an impromptu visit to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in central Rome. No doubt someone told him: “But Holy Father, we need time to plan these visits very carefully.” He wisely didn’t listen. Yes, his presence snarled traffic and caused a major stir, but the Romans loved it.

Instead of taking the main car in the papal fleet, a Mercedes with the “SCV 1” license plate, he rode in a more modest sedan.

On the way inside the basilica, he stopped to wave to high school students across the street. After praying before a popular icon of Mary, he told confessors at the church to “be merciful, the souls of the faithful need your mercy.”

Then he stopped personally at a clerical guest house where he had been staying in recent days, a few steps from Piazza Navona, to pick up his suitcases and “pay his bill,” as he told cardinals the night before. One can presume his Vatican handlers offered to send someone else on this humdrum task, but Pope Francis did it his way.

“That’ll be $72.45, your Holiness. We hope you enjoyed your stay.” Imagine being the guy who got to say THAT this morning and probably after the Pope insisted on not having his room comped, or at the very least picked up by some diocesan lackey. To be fair, the money is likely not coming out of the Pope’s own pocket but rather the diocesan travel budget, but it is refreshing to see a man of his stature take care of this on his own. Folks who have interviewed him including Fr. Tom Rosica of Salt and Light TV have said that the Pope cooks for himself and he’s always eager to tell people that he does so.

4) His Own Man: This Pope seems to be his own man, setting a new charter for the Papacy from the start. He’s a conservative, so probably no big changes and at 76 this should be another short Papacy, but you never know, they said the same thing about John XXIII. The name is a huge sign that this is not “business as usual”. The Vatican confirmed that he took the name Francis, for Francis of Assisi. As a Jesuit, some wondered why he would not have taken Ignatius. Well, for one, Ignatius didn’t want his followers to seek high offices like this, preferring to work alongside those kinds of people. So St. Ignatius would probably blanche at a Pope Ignatius. But Ignatius was also enamored by Francis of Assisi and tried hard to imitate him. As a Bishop who values simplicity and takes the bus to work and was known to visit the slums, Pope Francis takes the name of the saint of the poor. And the Italians, love Francis of Assisi! So we have a guy who knows his audience!

Some final thoughts:

5) Ignatian Spirituality: I’m excited to see a Jesuit as Pope, even one who is much more conservative than most American Jesuits that I know. In Pope Francis we seem to already have a man who depends on God, who is indifferent to his calling. He made it known last time that he was not ready to take on such a calling. But now, this time around, perhaps after much prayer, Papa Francisco, has accepted his calling as one from God, whose love and grace is enough for him to make it through each day.

6) Pragmatism: Some complain that while the Pope has been touted for being a man of the poor, he also did not favor Liberation Theologians in Argentina. But he embraced the central message of the “preferential option for the poor” without embracing the political activism that many espoused at that time. A pragmatic position that centered on parish work being primary and not political agendas being at the center of ministry. While I think he could have embraced both ends of that spectrum, I can respect his position and am happy to see that he was able to look at both sides of the issue and come to a compromise position that honors the theory of liberation theology while not espousing some of the practices that based themselves in Marxist policies, politically speaking. (I’ll write more on this today).

In short, I’m hopeful that the Cardinals elected a “compromise” candidate, who will lead our church in new ways, and will be his own man and not who others expect him to be.

ANd that might be a sign to us that we too, need to be ourselves. We need to be who God created us to be and that doing so is indeed more than enough.

For us, for the world and for God.