Boston’s archbishop, Cardinal Sean O’Malley today is quoted as saying of our new Holy Father and the role yesterday evening he assumed, “he is a prisoner who lives in a museum.” My thoughts ran along the same line when after what seemed like eternity between the smoke and the appearance, Francis came out on the balcony.
Excited at the choice, I felt so sorry for him for I have some sense of the burdens of office he carries and the loneliness which comes with it. The oft mentioned throw-away line, “it’s lonely at the top” certainly applies to the modern papacy.
Then he asked for everyone present in the square to pause and pray for him and bless him with their prayers, a request followed by the most humble of gestures, a profound bow before the people.
I knew from that moment we may have wound up with someone very special.
In the subsequent hours, what he has said, how he said it, and what he has done has amazed me. He eschewed the papal limosine for a more simple car in making this morning’s trip to St. Mary Major, one of the four major basilicas in Rome where he prayed before a special shrine of the Blessed Mother. “They” let him get away with it this time but that will not last forever, I know, but it was a sign. We learned that when each cardinal elector approached him after his election instead of sitting and making the cardinals kneel, he stood on the same level as they did and greeted each. We learned that after appearing on the balcony and going down to the level where that same limo was waiting he declined to ride in it and climbed on the bus with the other cardinals for the return trip to the residence inside Vatican City where they were all staying. We learned that last night at dinner, he greeted all the cardinals with the line, “God forgive you for what you have done!” I loved that while driving through the city of Rome (no Buenos Aires which is properly referred to as the ‘Paris of the South’ with its broad streets and boulevards), he asked his driver to pull up to the hotel where he had been staying (it’s a hotel for visiting bishops and priests only) so he could pack his bags and pay his bill (Shame on the place if they charged this humble man!). At his first Mass as Pope this afternoon with the Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, he preached from the ambo and not the chair, he preached without the mitre, and he preached without a written text. If that continues, watch the practice of we bishops throughout the world. And if I were the papal master of ceremonies who has been in office since early in Pope Benedict’s pontificate, I would be calling my Archbishop in Genoa and asking if there were any parishes in the archdiocese open and in need of a pastor.
The power of the papacy, to entice, to invite, to excite, to thrill has been very much on display for the last four weeks and three days since Pope Benedict announced his intention to resign and retire. The world has focused on the Church in a way that few other governments would receive. We elected a world leader without great cost. We conducted an election where no one destroyed the reputation of anyone else or tried to climb over someone else to win an election, we did it really in just thirteen days after the position was truly vacant and we now have a leader for our Church who models consistency with Church teaching, compassion for the poor (I bet he would have been with me and my brother priests and brother and sister ministers at the FAST meeting on Tuesday night at the Trop) and a simplicity of lifestyle which will show occasional surprises even if he does live in something of a fishbowl museum.
There were tears on so many faces yesterday. There were even tears on the faces of those hardened by their dislike of the Church. We have a Pope. He will lead in many new ways. He will begin anew the reforms envisioned by the Second Vatican Council, he will find a way to communicate timeless and unchangeable truth in a new way which shows compassion and understanding for those who find such truths and teaching hard to accept. I thank God the election was swift, thereby denying those waiting to rush into print or on the screen with stories about deep divisions in the Church of Christ. What a month, what a day, what a future! Thank you to those who were able to come pray with me at a last minute Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Timothy’s in Lutz.
But for Francis, yesterday was a life altering moment. We must pray for him. It will neither be an easy job or quickly finished, but we are a church which thinks in centuries, not days. And in that museum in which our new Holy Father will live, I thought of another Argentinian who in a famous musical bearing her name, was shown coming out on the balcony many times at the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires to acknowledge the acclaim of the crowd and who like our new Pope perhaps should have sung, “do cry for me Argentina.” Francis is not a Peron. He is our pope.
With love to all my readers,