March 13, 2014 // Uncategorized

Lessons in style: Pope's gestures, choices are teaching moments

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — From the moment Pope Francis, dressed simply in a white cassock, stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time and bowed, he signaled his pontificate would bring some style differences to the papacy.

Some of the style changes are simply a reflection of his personality, he has explained. Others are meant to be a lesson. But sometimes the two coincide.

Answering questions from students in June, he said the Apostolic Palace, where his predecessors lived “is not that luxurious,” but he decided to live in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, a Vatican guesthouse, “for psychiatric reasons.”

Living alone or in an isolated setting “would not do me any good,” he said, because he’s the kind of person who prefers living in the thick of things, “among the people.” However, he added that he tries to live as simply as possible, “to not have many things and to become a bit poorer” like Christ.

Unlike his choice of residence, his decision to travel in Rome in a blue Ford Focus instead of one of the Mercedes sedans in the Vatican motor pool was meant to be a message.

Meeting with seminarians and novices in July, he said too many people — including religious — think joy comes from possessions, “so they go in quest of the latest model of smartphone, the fastest scooter, the showy car.”

“I tell you, it truly grieves me to see a priest or a sister with the latest model of a car,” he said. For many priests and religious, cars are a necessity, “but choose a more humble car. And if you like the beautiful one, only think of all the children who are dying of hunger.”

A few days after his election, Pope Francis told reporters who had covered the conclave, “How I would like a church which is poor and for the poor.”

In October, he traveled to the birthplace of St. Francis of Assisi and met clients of Catholic charities in the room where St. Francis had stripped off his cloak and renounced his family’s wealth. The pope said he knew some people were expecting him to say or do something similarly shocking with the church’s material goods.

Living simply is important, he said, not just out of solidarity with the poor, but because it is so easy to get attached to worldly possessions, turning them into idols. The church, he said in Assisi, “must strip away every kind of worldly spirit, which is a temptation for everyone; strip away every action that is not for God, that is not from God; strip away the fear of opening the doors and going out to encounter all, especially the poorest of the poor, the needy, the remote, without waiting.”

The first year of Pope Francis’ pontificate also has been one of encounters.

A pope, like priests around the world, celebrates Mass every day. Before he became very infirm, Blessed John Paul II would invite visiting bishops and special guests to attend his early morning Mass in the chapel of the papal residence. Pope Benedict XVI’s morning Mass generally was more familial, including his secretaries, his butler and the women who ran the apartment.

With a much larger chapel in the Domus Sanctae Marthae and more priests and bishops in residence there, Pope Francis has had a larger congregation for his morning Masses. Although the Masses are considered private by the Vatican, PopeFrancis has been inviting Vatican employees to attend, beginning with the garbage collectors and gardeners.

While transcripts of his morning homilies are not printed in the Vatican’s official daily news bulletin, excerpts are provided by the Vatican newspaper and Vatican Radio.

In the first months of his papacy, especially as the weather warmed up, he’d go for a walk, dropping in on Vatican workers in the garage or the power plant. And, when he has a request of a Vatican office or wants to make sure something he requested is being done, he simply picks up the phone.

Every Vatican office — not to mention the Jesuits and other religious orders — has a funny story about someone answering the phone and thinking it’s a joke when they hear, “This is Pope Francis.”

But his phone calls go well beyond the inner circle of the Vatican and the church. Pope Francis has called journalists and people either he has read about or who have written to him with stories of suffering and desperation. His telephone calls, in some ways, have taken the place of his Buenos Aires habit of riding public transportation and walking the streets of the poorer neighborhoods to stay in touch with how people really live.

While he will pose with pilgrims for photos and “selfies,” reciprocate when given a big hug, sign autographs for children and accept cups of “mate” — an herbal tea popular in parts of Latin America — he learned in Argentina that there are times when the ministry of an archbishop or pope can be used by the powerful, and he has taken steps to make sure that does not happen.

At his morning Mass and at his large public liturgies, Pope Francis gives Communion only to the altar servers and deacons, then he sits down and prays.

In a 2010 book written with Buenos Aires Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Pope Francis said that at large Masses for special occasions — Masses attended by government officials and leading business people — “I do not give Communion myself; I stay back and I let the ministers give it, because I do not want those people to come to me for the photo op. One could deny Communion to a public sinner who has not repented, but it is very difficult to check such things.”


Pope Francis’ constant refrain: ‘Go forth,’ evangelize, help the poor

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis’ most frequent advice and exhortation to Catholics — from laypeople in parishes to bishops and cardinals — is “Go forth.”

In Italian, the phrase is even snappier: “Avanti.”

As the world’s cardinals gathered at the Vatican in early March 2013 to discuss the needs of the church before they entered the conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, “avanti” was at the heart of a speech by then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The speech captured the imagination of his confrere, Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, who received permission to share it after Pope Francis was elected.

“Put simply, there are two images of the church: a church which evangelizes and goes out of herself” by hearing the word of God with reverence and proclaiming it with faith; and “the worldly church, living within herself, of herself, for herself,” Cardinal Bergoglio told the cardinals before they elected him pope.

He also used another image that has become a frequent refrain during his first year as head of the church: “In Revelation, Jesus says that he is at the door and knocks. Obviously, the text refers to his knocking from the outside in order to enter, but I think about the times in which Jesus knocks from within so that we will let him come out.”

The need for the church to go out into the world with the Gospel also was the central theme of this first apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), published in November.

In the document, the pope called on Catholics to go out into the world, sharing their faith “with enthusiasm and vitality” by being living examples of joy, love and charity.

“An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral,” he wrote.

Over and over during the first year of his pontificate, Pope Francis has asked practicing Catholics to realize the grace they have been given and accept responsibility for helping others experience the same grace — especially the poor, the sick and others left on the “peripheries” or margins of society.

The health of the church depends on it, he has said. If Catholics jealously hoard the gift of being loved by God and the joy of salvation, not sharing it with others, “we will become isolated, sterile and sick Christians,” he said in his message for World Mission Sunday 2013.

“Each one of us can think of persons who live without hope and are immersed in a profound sadness that they try to escape by thinking they can find happiness in alcohol, drugs, gambling, the power of money, promiscuity,” he told parish leaders from the Diocese of Rome in June.

“We who have the joy of knowing that we are not orphans, that we have a father,” cannot be indifferent to those yearning for love and for hope, he said. “With your witness, with your smile,” you need to let others know that the same Father loves them, too.

Even in countries like Italy where the majority of inhabitants have been baptized, most people do not practice their faith.

“In the Gospel there’s the beautiful passage about the shepherd who realizes that one of his sheep is missing, and he leaves the 99 to go out and find the one,” Pope Francis told the parish leaders. “But, brothers and sisters, we have only one. We’re missing 99! We must go out and find them.”

Sheep metaphors are frequent in Pope Francis’ speeches and homilies. Urging priests and bishops to spend time among people, he told them they should be “shepherds living with the smell of sheep.”

In a morning Mass homily Feb. 14, the feast of the great evangelists Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Pope Francis said Christians always remember they are sheep in Christ’s flock. They must preserve their humility as they go into the world with the Gospel, even if they find themselves among wolves.

“Sometimes, we’re tempted to think, ‘But this is difficult, these wolves are cunning, but I can be more cunning,'” he said. “If you are a lamb, God will defend you, but if you think you’re as strong as the wolf, he won’t, and the wolves will eat you whole.”

Celebrating Mass with an estimated 3 million young people at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in July, Pope Francis said, “Evangelizing means bearing personal witness to the love of God, it is overcoming our selfishness, it is serving by bending down to wash the feet of our brethren, as Jesus did.”

The obligation to share the Gospel and care for others comes with baptism, and no one is excused from the task, he said.

“Jesus did not say, ‘One of you go,’ but ‘All of you go.’ We are sent together.”

Pope Francis told the young people in Rio, as he told others before and since: “Be creative. Be audacious. Do not be afraid.”

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