by Patrick Novecosky
MARCH 23, 2013 (VATICAN CITY) — Although his pontificate is not even two weeks old, it’s clear that Pope Francis does things differently. Before he even stepped out onto the loggia on March 13 as the 266th successor of St. Peter, he eschewed the gold pectoral cross reserved for the newly elected pope and instead opted to wear his own simple dark metallic cross depicting the Holy Spirit descending upon the shepherd returning with a lost sheep.
Pope Francis pays his hotel bill on the first day of his pontificate
On his first day as pontiff, Pope Francis visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome with a small security escort before returning to the hotel where he had stayed prior to the conclave. He cleared out his room, carried his own suitcase, and then paid the bill himself.
A few days later, just before celebrating Sunday Mass at the tiny parish church of Santa Anna inside the Vatican, the new Pope stepped onto the sidewalk to greet passersby, astonishing pilgrims making their way to St. Peter’s Square.
Pope Francis greets people after celebrating Mass at St. Anne’s Parish within the Vatican March 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
A new pope
As a journalist and a Catholic, I was blessed to be in Rome during the conclave and the first days of Francis’ pontificate. I arrived in Rome on March 12 — about 12 hours before the first black smoke issued from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel on the first day of the conclave.
While the square was perhaps half-full on that cold and rainy night with temps dipping into the 30s, it was a different story 24 hours later. It was still cold, but nearly 150,000 had packed the square, clutching umbrellas as the rain occasionally turned to flurries.
My view of St. Peter’s Square on March 13
When the curtains on the basilica’s loggia opened — more than an hour after the white smoke appeared — I was shivering atop the colonnade waiting for the new pope. A Spanish journalist next to me speculated that Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola had been elected because his Twitter account had been removed. However, a couple of minutes before the new pope appeared, she told me his name was “Bergoglio from Argentina.” As it turns out, she was right. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was the new Holy Father — now named Pope Francis. He was installed on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church.
Atop the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square awaiting the new pope
Like his famous namesake — St. Francis of Assisi — the new pope has a heart for the poor. As cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, he left the opulent bishop’s residence to live in a small apartment with a retired bishop. He did his own cooking and rode the bus to his office. Being pope hasn’t changed him. After his election, he rode on a bus with the cardinals back to the residence in the Vatican Gardens where they were staying during the conclave.
During his March 16 audience with journalists where he became known as the “Hugging Pope,” Francis expressed a desire to refocus on the poor. Regarding the inspiration for his new name, he explained that late in the voting during the conclave, he was sitting next to his friend, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy.
“When things were getting a little ‘dangerous,’ he comforted me,” the Pope told journalists. “And then, when the votes reached the two-thirds, there was the usual applause because the pope had been elected. He hugged me and said: ‘Do not forget the poor.’ And that word stuck here [tapping his forehead]; the poor, the poor.
“Then, immediately in relation to the poor I thought of Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and safeguards creation. In this moment when our relationship with creation is not so good — right? — he is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man. Oh, how I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor!”
In Paul VI Hall during the audience for journalists with Pope Francis on March 16
Pope Francis has surprised almost everyone with his charm, his simplicity and his ability to communicate the truths of the faith in word and action. I have no doubt that we can expect much of the same during his pontificate. This man, who has the humility of Benedict XVI and the charm and ease of John Paul II, will do things differently. And that’s a good thing.
PATRICK NOVECOSKY is the editor of Legatus magazine and this blog. A modified version of this article appeared in the March 17 edition of the Prairie Messenger.