Simplicity and compassion front and center

Simplicity and compassion front and center

   Pope Francis stopped his jeep to greet a disabled man in the square

How does Pope Francis understand “papal power”?

He answered that question today with these words: “lowly, concrete and faithful service.”

At an inaugural Mass rich in traditional symbols of the papal office, attended by hundreds of secular and religious leaders from around the world, Pope Francis told the world that his role would be that of a protector – especially of “the poorest, the weakest, the least important.”

His words confirmed what has already become a new papal style, one that favors the common touch over formal ceremony, and humility over authority.

The pope’s day began with a long ride in an open jeep through St. Peter’s Square. What struck me was that the pontiff, smiling and giving a thumbs-up, seemed to be connecting with individuals in the crowd.

As I watched on a monitor from the ABC News platform, I saw the pope’s jeep suddenly stop. Francis got out of the vehicle, walked over to the barricades and kissed a disabled man. It was a brief moment in a long day, but one that will remain in people’s memory.

The inauguration Mass marks the official start of a pope’s public ministry, and it’s steeped in tradition. Pope Francis made several small but significant changes in the liturgy:

-- He abbreviated the “act of obedience” performed by the cardinals. In a modification only recently introduced by the master of papal liturgical ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, all cardinals were to have professed obedience to the pope at the beginning of the Mass – which would have likely added an hour and a half to the service.

Pope Francis, who prefers short liturgies, cut that to six representative members of the College of Cardinals.

-- He eliminated the offertory procession, which typically features many Catholics or groups of Catholics bringing gifts directly to the seated pope. Vatican officials said this, too, was a move designed to save time. I can’t help but think it also reflected Francis’ desire to remove himself from the center of the liturgical stage.

-- He decided not to distribute Communion, leaving that task to priests and deacons. Some have suggested that the pope may have wanted to avoid the embarrassment of giving Communion to VIPs – including some international politicians – who may disagree with some church teachings.

My own theory is that, again, he was removing himself as a celebrity celebrant. For years, people have pulled strings to get into the pope’s Communion line, and it’s often seen as some kind of reward or sign of prestige.

It was Pope Francis’ homily marking the feast of St. Joseph that really caught the tone of the day in its eloquent simplicity. St. Joseph, he said, was above all a protector who worked “discreetly, humbly and silently,” attentive to God’s voice and God’s plan.

This “vocation” of being a protector, he said, involves everyone. It means protecting the weak and vulnerable first of all – children, the elderly, the poor, the sick – and protecting “the beauty of the created world,” as St. Francis demonstrated.

The pope specifically urged political and economic leaders to safeguard the environment. Here we had a first indication that ecology will likely figure as a major theme of this pontificate.

But Francis said ecology begins with the individual, who needs to guard against pride and envy, as well as emotions that “tear down.” People need compassion, he said, and he argued that “tenderness” should not be seen as “the virtue of the weak.”

The liturgy had a strong ecumenical element. The pope was joined by the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I of Constantinople, considered the “first among equals” in the Orthodox world, when he descended to pray in the tomb area of St. Peter’s Basilica.

It was the first time since the Great Schism of 1054 – prompted mainly by disagreement over papal authority – that the ecumenical patriarch had attended a pope’s inaugural Mass.

A few minutes later, the pope slipped on the Fisherman’s Ring. I was told that Francis thought the original choices of the ring design were too ornate, so instead he chose a relatively simple model that had been crafted many years ago. It features St. Peter holding the keys of the papacy.

The people in St. Peter’s Square seem to have caught the “simplicity and compassion” theme of this pontificate, judging by some of the banners that greeted the pope as he made the rounds in his jeep.

One read, “Pope Francis, good morning!” echoing his unpretentious “Good evening” salutation to the crowd just after his election. Another banner declared: “Assisi is waiting for you.” Every expectation is that visiting St. Francis’ birthplace is high on the pope’s to-do list.

12 comments (Add your own)

1. claire bangasser wrote:
I notice Pope Francis' inclusive language and feel grateful for it.

Tue, March 19, 2013 @ 8:47 AM

2. Catherine Green wrote:
Thank you for all the excellent reporting John Thavis.

My heart thanks God for the gift to his Church -- Pope Francis!

Tue, March 19, 2013 @ 10:43 AM

3. MoPed wrote:
Wow! That's all I can really say about Pope Francis' actions over the past week. He has, so far, lived up to his namesake.

Tue, March 19, 2013 @ 12:55 PM

4. Sue wrote:
Good day to you John! I am so grateful to the Lord to have experienced in my lifetime a Pope who is as simple and humble as the name he has chosen, St. Francis. I pray that God will protect and guide him in all his undertakings.

Thank you too for this wonderful blog and story about the Pope. I look forward to reading more about Pope Francis in the days ahead. Your story about todays's happening were so clear and beautifully worded. It is easy to understand and I could feel I am a part of the crowd at Vatican. What a joyful morning indeed!!! Long live Pope Francis!

God bless you John!!!!

Tue, March 19, 2013 @ 1:05 PM

5. (Msgr) Andy Varga wrote:
I can't help but notice that his vesture was so simple and dignified (which pope was it who lamented being dressed up like a "circus pony" or some such statement?) Better yet, our Holy Father Francis was apparently able to get Guido Marini out of the silly, lacy, frou-frou, "teddy" stuff that he has been wearing. (Wasn't his style of dress worn on the balcony suppressed quite a while ago?)

Tue, March 19, 2013 @ 1:17 PM

6. Janet Kraus wrote:
Thank you John for your descriptions and moving comments. I feel like I was there.
What a wonderful gift.

in gratitude and prayer.

Tue, March 19, 2013 @ 2:14 PM

7. Sergio wrote:
There is a wonderful story about Francis in today's online edition of La Nacion, Buenos Aires's oldest and mot prestigious newspaper. It appears that Francis used to get the paper each morning at the same stand, near BA's cathedral. Shortly before leaving for the conclave, the stand owner asked him jokingly, "so, Jorge are you going to Rome to grab the baton" (meaning the papacy)"? and Francis responded, "what baton,? it's a hot iron rod!. Don't stop the paper's delivery, I'll be back in 3 weeks" he ordered the man. After being elected, Francis called his friend at the newsstand to bid farewell and asked to stop the paper's delivery.

Tue, March 19, 2013 @ 3:20 PM

8. Brian wrote:
I hope you do a blog entry on what Reggie Foster thinks about Pope Francis. I notice that you quote Foster in your book as saying that the Vatican bosses could learn a lot by taking the bus, so it seems like he might be impressed. At the same time, he sounds like someone who probably isn't easily impressed, especially by authority figures, so I'm curious.

(By the way, I really appreciated your book, without which I wouldn't even know to wonder what Foster thinks!)

Tue, March 19, 2013 @ 3:31 PM

9. Judith Reichsman wrote:

Tue, March 19, 2013 @ 3:32 PM

10. Yae wrote:
I watched the Mass too and was made happy to see the beauty that come s from a quiet faith, a simple, yet deep faith and a love for Christ, Mary, St. Joseph and the Church. Pope Francis celebrated the Mass with great reverence and love, in a quiet and humble way letting Christ himself shine forth much like Papa Benedict used to do.
I pray all of us to follow that path of faith and to ask St. Joesph to intercede for us.
Mr. Thavis, thank you for your wonderful blog. I like your way of seeing things as you are balanced and charitable. May you be richly blessed!
Viva Papa Francesco!

Tue, March 19, 2013 @ 4:22 PM

11. Margaret Karam wrote:
And now to pray for him as he has asked us to.

Tue, March 19, 2013 @ 4:28 PM

12. nancyo wrote:
I have been enjoying your posts during this papal transition, and wish I'd realized you were on this ABC this morning.

Tue, March 19, 2013 @ 10:31 PM

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