It was a special moment on Wednesday afternoon, March 13, 2013. A vast crowd had gathered in dark and rainy St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. The white smoke rose from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel. The bells rang and the crowd cheered in delight.
When the curtains opened on the center balcony of St. Peter’s and the formal announcement was made, “Habemus Papam (We have a Pope)”, the excitement built still more.
This was to be an event of firsts. His name was to be “Pope Francis”, never before used by a Pope. From the announcement we learned that his name was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, the first non-European ever elected Pope.
When he came out to greet the cheering throngs, he wore his simple white cassock and cape. His gentle smile was assuring; his brief word and actions were also precedent setting. In his brief sharing, he asked those gathered before him to pause in silence and pray for him. What a lovely change of expectations. He needed our prayers!
Then, a sumptuous red stole was place over his shoulders and he gave his blessing – “Urbi et Orbi (to the City [of Rome] and to [the] world)” in a strong voice. A small gesture followed, a break in tradition. He removed the ornate stole, seemingly preferring to stand with only his white cassock to conclude his moments with the Church and the world watching. It seemed to be an effort to show that he was of the same attitude of the “poverello (poor man)”, St. Francis of Assisi, who left his clothes behind, preferring to live a life of simplicity and poverty.
And lastly, our new Pope is a Jesuit, another first for the Papacy. His parting words were tender and direct: “Good night and have a good rest.”
All in all, I was very impressed by these simple words and gestures. I learned later that, as Archbishop of Buenos Ares, he sold the Bishop’s mansion and limousine, symbols that conflicted with his personal view of his station and vocation. In fact, the Archbishop regularly took busses to get to his office each day. He would readily talk with those on the bus as they went their way together.
All this Pope Francis showed in his 12-minute speech with his new flock (see complete speech below). This Shepherd apparently brings with him a refreshingly different attitude which will hopefully help to renew our worldwide sense of faith, Church, and mission.
The Need to Reform the Roman Curia
Three days before the Consistory began – even before choosing the name of Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the Church reformer – then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was interviewed by Andrea Cornielli from the Italian Newspaper, La Stampa. He was asked about the need to reform the Roman Curia or Papal Offices.
Cardinal Bergoglio said: “There’s a tension between the center and the periphery. We must get out of ourselves and go towards the periphery. We must avoid the spiritual disease of the Church that has become self-reverential. When this happens, the Church itself becomes sick. True accidents can happen when you go out into the street, as can happen to any man or woman. But if the Church remains closed onto itself – self-reverential – it grows old. Between a Church that goes into the street and gets into an accident and a Church that is sick with self-reverentiality, I have no doubts in preferring the first.”
Of course, his challenges are immense and he really does need our prayers. May his life be blessed with much wisdom, patience and strength – gifts of the Spirit which only God can give. Let us join our prayers for our new Shepherd as he walks in the footsteps of Peter as the 266th pontiff, and, in Pope John XXIII”s description, becomes “the servant of the servants of the Lord.” Let us pray:
Prayer For Our Newly Elected Pope
O God, who in your providential design willed that your Church be built upon blessed Peter, whom you set over the other apostles, look with favor, on Pope Francis, our newly elected Shepherd.
Grant that, as Peter’s successor, he may be for your people a visible source and foundation of unity in faith and of communion.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
In his first public appearance Pope Francis said:
“Brothers and sisters, good evening!
You know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems as though my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world to get him. But here we are. I thank you for your welcome. The diocesan community of Rome has a bishop. Thank you!
Before all else, I would like to say a prayer for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI. Let us all pray together for him, that the Lord may bless him and that Our Lady may watch over him…
[Our Father … Hail Mary … Glory be]
And now let us begin this journey, [together] as bishop and people. This journey of the Church of Rome, which is to preside over all the Churches in charity. It is a journey of fraternity, of love, of trust between us. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the world, so that a great brotherhood may be created. I hope that this journey of the Church, which we begin today and in which my Cardinal Vicar who is present here will assist me, will be fruitful for the Evangelization of this beautiful city.
And now I would like to give you my blessing. But before I do, I would like to ask you a favor: before the bishop blesses the people, I ask you to pray to the Lord that He bless me…. the prayer of the people for a blessing upon their bishop. Let us take a moment of silence for you to offer your prayer for me.”
[Silence, the Holy Father bows]
[Cardinal says: “The Holy Father, Francesco …”]
“Now I will give you my blessing and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.”
Brothers and Sisters,
I leave you now. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me. And we’ll see one another again soon. Tomorrow I want to go and pray to Our Lady, asking her to watch over Rome. Good night and have a good rest.”
(His speech reprinted with permission of Zenit.org [The world seen from Rome])