Thursday, 14 March 2013

Pope Francis: "Brothers and sisters, good evening!"

Pope francis

Habemus Papam!

Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio of the Society of Jesus, born in Argentina of Italian parents, is Pope Francis. His election fills me with joy and a great desire to find out as much about him as possible and to support him with my prayers and actions.

Already the words he shared from the balcony of St. Peter’s this evening are a joy to receive (and, please, do stay away from the ghastly BBC translation that obscures the humility, immediacy and ease of his words - their original being here in Italian and the following containing my own, crude translation):
  1. He starts with a simple greeting: “Brothers and sisters, good evening!” No pomp and circumstance - just a plain, fraternal greeting.
  2. Then: a joke! “You know that the job of the Conclave was to provide Rome with a bishop. It seems as if my brother cardinals went almost to the ends of the earth to get him …”
  3. Next, a call to prayer for Pope emeritus Benedict XVI - and not just a call but an actual prayer! Pope Francis leads those present in St. Peter’s square and all following him live over the internet by reciting the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be there and then
  4. What follows then is the core message of his greeting: “And now we begin this journey: bishop and people. This journey of the Church of Rome, which presides in charity over all the Churches. A journey of fraternity, of love, of trust among us. We always pray for each other. We pray for the whole world, so that fraternity may grow in it.” Journey. Fraternity. Churches. World.
  5. What comes next is a masterclass in humility and in being serious about the fraternity which his very first words expressed and which punctuated his message: “I would like to ask you for a favor: before the bishop blesses the people, I ask you that you pray to the Lord that He bless me: the prayer of the people, asking a blessing for its bishop. In silence, lets make this prayer of you over me.” Pope Francis then bows his head for a good 15 seconds to receive the blessing he requested.
  6. Only then does Pope Francis turn to the expected "Urbi et Orbi" blessing after which he shares is plans for tomorrow: to pray to Mary for the protection of Rome.
In an attempt to learn more about Pope Francis, and wanting to do so from his own words as opposed to journalistic analyses or lists of dates, places and offices held, I first had to get past the myriad permutations of his biography now flooding the web (a particularly good and extensive one being here, and a more telegraphic one here).

The first source I arrived at are his homilies and pastoral messages as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, whose archive is available here in Spanish. Here, let me just pick out a couple of passages from his Lenten message, dated 13th Februray 2013 and therefore serving as a very recent glimpse of his mindset. These lines seem to me to give a sense both of his concerns and of his style (translation again mine - apologies for its crudeness):
“Bit by bit we are getting used to hearing and seeing, through the mass media, the dark chronicles of contemporary society, presented almost with perverted joy, and we are getting used to touching and feeling it in our environment and in our own flesh. […] We live with murderous violence that destroys families and intensifies wars and conflicts in so many of the world’s countries. We live with envy, hatred, slander, worldliness in our heard. The suffering of the innocent and peaceful keeps slapping us; the contempts for the rights of the most fragile persons and countries are not far from us; the rule of money with its demonic effects like drugs, corruption, human trafficking - including of children - together with material and moral misery are currency. The destruction of decent work, painful emigrations and the lack of a future also join this symphony. Our errors and sins as Church aren’t left out of this large panorama either. [… All of this] speaks to us about our limitations, about our weakness and about our incapacity to transform this endless list of destructive realities.

The trap of powerlessness makes us think: Does it make sense to try and change all of this? Can we do something in the face of this situation? Is it worth trying, if the world continues its carnival dance that masks everything for a while? Nevertheless, when the mask slips, the truth appears and, in spite of it sounding anachronistic to many, sin appears again, which wounds our flesh with all its destructive force and twists the destinies of the world and of history.

Lent presents itself to us as a cry of truth and of hope, certain to answer a yes to the possibility of no longer putting on make-up and painting on plastic smiles as if nothing was going on. Yes, it is possible for everything to become new and different because God continues to be “rich in goodness and mercy, always ready to forgive” and encourages us to start again. Today we are invited again to undertake a Paschal journey towards Life, a journey that includes the cross and renunciation, that will be uncomfortable but not in vain. We are invited to recognize that something is not right in ourselves, in society or in the Church, to change, to turn, to convert ourselves.”
The second source I’d like to just mention is a book he co-authored with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, head of the Latin-American Rabbinical School, entitled “On Heaven and Earth,” where the two discuss a variety of topics from Christian and Jewish perspectives, seeking common ground while each remaining faithful to their own religion. In many ways this reminds me of Cardinal Martini and Umberto Eco’s dialogue, which I am a great fan of. For now, let me just pick out the following passage from this very promising book:
“Dialogue is born of an attitude of respect towards another person, of a conviction that the other has something good to say; it requires that we make space in our heard their point of view, their opinion and their position. Dialoguing involves a heartfelt welcome and not prior condemnation. To dialogue, one has to lower ones defenses, open the doors of one’s home and offer human warmth.”
Viva il Papa!