VATICAN CITY — On his first full day in the papacy, Pope Francis warned the men who had elected him against the spiritual danger of being too comfortable with their own power.
He practiced what he preached by personally paying his preconclave hotel bill and avoiding special privileges.
The former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, preached to the cardinal-electors at a Mass in the Sistine Chapel, where just 18 hours earlier they had chosen him to succeed Pope Benedict XVI. His inaugural public Mass will take place Tuesday at 4:30 a.m. Toledo time.
Unlike his predecessor, who read from a Latin text on the same occasion, Pope Francis delivered his brief reflection — the homily — in Italian, without notes. He presided over Mass facing the cardinals, which required him to use a temporary altar since the one in the Sistine Chapel is fixed to the wall. He was vested similarly to the cardinals, all of them in gold, which the Vatican Press Office said denotes the color of joy.
Pope Francis warned of spiritual and ecclesiastical disaster if the church’s leaders fail to commit their lives and ministry to Jesus and to follow Christ’s example of painful self-sacrifice. Referring to the gospels in which Peter was the first disciple to say that Jesus was the Son of God but rebelled at the idea of his crucifixion, Pope Francis said that those who profess faith in Christ must also accept the cross.
“When we walk without the cross, when we build without the cross, when we profess a Christ without the cross . . . we aren’t disciples of the Lord. We are worldly.
“We are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord,” he told the cardinals.
Also according to the Vatican Press Office translation, he said that no matter how many good things the church does, “If we do not witness to Jesus Christ, then it doesn’t matter. We might become a philanthropic NGO, but we wouldn’t be the church, the bride of the Lord.”
Because there was no text, the official translation was partial and differed from other translations. Vatican Radio rendered the warning to the church as a “pitiful NGO.” NGO, or ‘nongovernment organization,” is the international term for nonprofit private charities.
“The whole Mass, the whole style of the Mass, was in itself a message,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., said.
Before, during, and after Mass, the new Pope behaved exactly as a good parish pastor or diocesan bishop would, Cardinal Wuerl said.
Instead of vesting in a private room as popes always have, he vested alongside the cardinals.
“It was just like I would do at the cathedral. When you are vesting with the priests, you are also talking with the priests around you. Many times, they take the opportunity to ask a question or raise a point. He was doing the same exact thing,” he said.
The Pope’s vestments were as simple as those of any pastor or bishop, and the Mass had “no particular frills,” Cardinal Wuerl said. After Mass, Pope Francis greeted and thanked the altar servers.
“It was a nice, ordinary, pastoral touch. He is now a universal pastor, but it’s clear that his pastoral instinct is that of a parish priest or diocesan bishop ministering to his people.”
Asked whether Pope Francis’ initial rejection of special privileges might signal a pontificate marked by greater collegiality between the Pope and bishops around the world, Cardinal Wuerl said it was too soon to tell.
“I don’t want to read universal signs into it. It’s just his pastoral style. We may see as time goes on that he is trying to emphasize the collegial nature of the episcopate.
“But I wouldn’t read too much into his first Mass.”
The son of Italian immigrants to Argentina preached in perfect Italian, and is said to be fluent in English, German, and French in addition to his native Spanish. According to the Vatican Press Office, Pope Francis likely will learn Portuguese before this summer’s World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, when he is expected to preach to at least a million Catholic teens and young adults.
The Rev. Thomas Rosica, who translates Vatican press conferences for English, French, and German speakers, called the opening of Pope Francis’ papacy “the days of surprise.”
Apparently no one was more surprised at his election than the Italian Bishops Conference, which, shortly after Cardinal Bergoglio’s election had been announced, sent a message to the Italian media congratulating Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, who reportedly had been the leading Italian candidate.
But the surprises most people remarked on involved his conduct. The former archbishop who rode the bus to work in Argentina continued to dodge the trappings of papacy. On the night of his election, he told the cardinals that he wanted to pray on Thursday before the icon of Mary, Protectress of Rome at the Basilica of St. Mary Major — one of several actions that emphasized his role as the bishop of Rome and pastor of the Roman people.
Shortly after 8 a.m. Thursday, he left the Vatican in an ordinary car belonging to the Vatican police, rather than a papal limousine. Inside the basilica, he placed a simple bouquet of flowers before the icon and knelt in prayer. The first Jesuit to become Pope also visited a chapel in the basilica where his order’s founder celebrated his first Mass after ordination.
“It is a very significant place in Jesuit spirituality,” said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a fellow Jesuit who is the Vatican spokesman.
The Pope greeted everyone who worked at the basilica, along with tourists, children from a school, and journalists covering his visit. He gave his blessing to a pregnant woman in the crowd. Then, as he had told the cardinals he planned to do, he had the driver take him to the downtown residence for visiting priests, where he had stayed before the conclave. He collected his luggage and paid his bill.
On Wednesday night after his election, Pope Francis had told the cardinals he planned to visit Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus, on Thursday. Though he called him Wednesday night, the visit was put off at least until today, Father Lombardi said.
Today, Pope Francis will meet all the cardinals, including those who were too old to enter the conclave and vote. Saturday, he will have a special audience with the 5,600 journalists who covered his election.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Ann Rodgers is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
Contact Ann Rodgers at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 412-263-1416.