Pope Francis: the story so far

This weekend marks the Holy Father’s two-month anniversary (!).  Vatican Insider sums it up so far:

What has Bergoglio done in the two months since he was elected Pope and what kind of a Pope has he been?

Fondness and confessions

The wave of affection for the new Pope is undeniable, with requests to attend papal audiences skyrocketing. Bergoglio has made contact with the crowds a focal point of his papacy. He spends a great deal of time among the faithful in St. Peter’s Square, getting out of the pope-mobile to greet them. During last Wednesday’s General Audience he dedicated almost half an hour to talking about contact with people and faithful. Some are sceptical and even irritated by this “honey moon” between the Pope and the people, expecting things to turn sour any minute. This could happen for example is the Pope adopts a rigid stance in the field of sexual morality. It would be a mistake to believe that this new relationship is being blown out of proportion by the media. Pope Francis spoke of mercy right from the outset and this triggered something deeper than mere fondness in the hearts of faithful. So many approached the Catholic faith again after decades of estrangement from the Church and they themselves say Francis’ words are to thank for this.

The Sanctae Marthae residence

Although he is now Pope, Francis has not really changed since his days as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. His style is still the same and this has contributed to alterations being made to the Vatican’s set protocol. His personal style has been leading the Catholic Church in the direction of a sobriety and simplicity that faithful recognise and appreciate. Some have labelled this “pauperism” because it questions the Church’s use of money and the ostentation of ecclesiastical symbols and jewels. The Pope’s decision to stay in the Domus Sanctae Marthae residence (St. Martha’s House), where cardinals stayed during the Conclave is certainly unusual. His choice had nothing to do with “sobriety” but with the sense of “isolation” he felt when he entered the papal apartment. By staying in the Sanctae Marthae residence, Bergoglio dented the Apartment’s status to a certain extent, it being the real centre of papal power and a sort of filter for the Pope’s closest collaborators. The Sanctae Marthae residence allows him to have more direct contact with people and more fraternal exchanges with guests. For example, living under the same roof, Francis had the chance to meet the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I informally on a number of occasions and hold long conversations with him.

Simple preaching

Another thing that is new about this papacy is the brevity of the Pope’s homilies (which never last more than ten minutes) during his morning masses in the Sancta Marthae residence. The masses are co-celebrated with visiting prelates or Curia representatives, with the congregation composed of Vatican employees and other guests. The Pope gets up at 4:30 each morning and prepares these homilies after praying and meditating on the Scriptures of the day for almost two hours. He has spoken about the sickness of autoreferentiality and careerism in the Church – subjects that were close to Benedict XVI’s heart. He has also invited faithful to “go out to the geographical and existential peripheries” and let themselves be guided by the Holy Spirit. The content of the homilies the Pope gives off-the-cuff during these private morning masses is not always transcribed in full or broadcast on the radio. The Pope has shown a strong keenness for improvisation in his sermons and speeches. One notable example was when he quoted St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” This suggests the Word of God must be announced and testified in real life.

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