Pope Francis on Thursday offered a conversational tone as he celebrated his inaugural mass at the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.

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Pope Francis on Thursday placed flowers on the altar inside St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome.

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For pope, it's 'simplicity, poverty, rigor'

  • Article by: RACHEL DONADIO
  • New York Times
  • March 14, 2013 - 10:11 PM


– He stopped to pay his hotel bill a day after becoming pope. He wore simple black shoes and an ordinary wristwatch with a thick black band to his first mass as pontiff. He rode in a mini-van to dinner with the cardinals who elected him, affectionately telling them, “May God forgive you for what you’ve done.”

In an ancient institution where style often translates into substance, Francis, in his first 24 hours as pope, has dramatically shifted the tone of the papacy. Whereas Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, was a theologian who favored red loafers, ermine-lined cloaks and erudite homilies, reviving papal fashions from centuries past, Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, appeared Thursday to be sending a message of radical humility.

“This choice indicates above all a style for the church: simplicity, poverty, rigor,” said the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, the editor of La Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit journal close to the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Francis, who chose the name of a medieval patron saint of Italy who came from a wealthy family and took a vow of poverty, is the first pope to come from the Jesuit order, whose members take a vow of poverty and have traditionally shunned careerism, instead focusing on service, education and engaging with the world.

On his first morning as pope, Francis, 76, slipped out of the Vatican to pray privately in a shrine to the Virgin Mary in Santa Maria Maggiore, a Roman basilica. He also prayed in a side chapel where St. Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Jesuits, celebrated his first Christmas mass.

On Thursday, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, the archbishop of Bordeaux, France, recalled how, soon after Francis greeted the faithful from the loggia at St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time as pope, he left with the cardinals to return to their residence during the conclave.

‘We can all get in’

“When he left to go back with us to Santa Marta, the staff moved us aside, because usually the pope descends alone in the elevator,” Ricard said. “And he said, ‘No, no, no, no, we can all get in.’ And so we all got into the elevator with the pope.

“And when we got to the bottom, he said, ‘No, I am coming with you,’ and he got in the bus with us, and the papal car left empty,” he added. “I think this is the style of our new pope.”

In a homily delivered in a mass in the Sistine Chapel with the cardinals who elected him, Francis spoke of the need to build faith the way the apostle Peter built the church on the foundations of the Gospels. “When we don’t walk, we stop,” he said. “When you don’t build on stone, what happens becomes like what happens to children on the beach when they build sand castles. Everything falls down.”

Francis’ more conversational tone, albeit dense in biblical allusions, came in contrast to the style of Benedict, whose speeches often expounded on the interplay between faith and reason.

On his way back to the Vatican from the shrine to the Virgin Mary, Francis stopped at the clerical residence in Rome where he had stayed before the conclave to collect his luggage and to pay his bill. “He wanted to send a message” to the clergy, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said on Thursday.

For an audience that he will hold with cardinals on Friday, the pope instructed them to wear plain black cassocks and not red with white lace surplices.

Francis comes from Argentina, which was hit by a crippling sovereign debt crisis in 2001 from which it has not fully recovered. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, France, recalled that he had asked Bergoglio why he was not going to Rome in December when Benedict was naming more cardinals.

“He told me that right now the situation in Argentina was too terrible; he couldn’t leave,” Barbarin said. “For me, that was significant. In a moment where the country is going badly, he said, ‘I have to be here.’ He could have happily come to a party in Rome, but he didn’t.”

The difference in style was a sign of Francis’ belief that the Catholic Church needs to be at one with the people it serves and not impose its message on a society that often doesn’t want to hear it, Francis’ authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin, said.

‘Go to the streets’

“It seems to me for now what is certain is it’s a great change of style, which for us isn’t a small thing,” said Rubin, who noted how Bergoglio would celebrate masses with homeless people and prostitutes in Buenos Aires. “He believes the church has to go to the streets to express this closeness of the church and this accompaniment with those who are suffering.”

The main item on Francis’ agenda Thursday was his inaugural afternoon mass in the Sistine Chapel, where cardinals elected him leader of the 1.2 billion-strong church in an unusually quick conclave.

At the start of the mass, Francis exchanged words with Monsignor Guido Marini, the Vatican’s master of liturgical ceremonies. Vatican officials confirmed reports that Marini was somewhat put off by Francis’ refusal Wednesday night to wear the formal papal red cape when he emerged on the loggia overlooking St. Peter’s Square to be introduced to the crowd. Benedict was known to favor many of the trappings of the papacy, including the elaborate vestments and ceremonial gear used by popes past.

Traditionalists had rejoiced with Benedict’s return to these elements of the pre-Vatican II church, arguing it was the true church and not the one spoiled by the council’s reforms.

The new pope immediately charmed the crowd in St. Peter’s, which roared when his name was announced and roared again when he emerged on the loggia of the basilica with a simple and familiar: “Brothers and sisters, good evening.”

By Thursday, members of his flock were similarly charmed when Francis stopped by the Vatican-owned residence where he routinely stays during visits to Rome and where he stayed before the start of the conclave.

“He wanted to come here because he wanted to thank the personnel, people who work in this house,” said the Rev. Pawel Rytel-Andrianek, who is staying at the residence. “He greeted them one by one, no rush, the whole staff, one by one.”

He then paid the bill.

“People say that he never in these 20 years asked for a [Vatican] car,” he said. “Even when he went for the conclave with a priest from his diocese, he just walked out to the main road, he picked up a taxi and went to the conclave. So very simple for a future pope.”


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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