The Head and the Heart
Pray for me.-Pope Francis, March 13, 2013, from the balcony ofSt. Peter's Basilica immediately after his election
The initial silence of the new pope struck all who saw him. And during those moments, as Pope Francis stood there smiling, seeming almost awkward, the world formed its first, and inevitably lasting, impression of the new bishop of Rome. It was a good impression. In his silence, Francis seemed to express a modesty, a humility, that the crowd below appreciated. Still, they desired to know him better, to understand who he was and what he intended to do.
But, for a moment, that desire was frustrated by the new pope's evident desire to remain "hidden" for just a little while longer, though the cameras of the world were trained upon him. And in that tension between words and silence, between a desire to know and a wish to remain hid- den, a bond was formed between Francis and the people of St. Peter's Square.
How such things happen is not easy to explain. But be- fore he said anything at all, the people had already begun to understand him, and to appreciate him. In his silence, in his modesty, in what appeared to be even a certain clumsiness, he was revealing, it seemed, his humanity, his sensitivity, and so spontaneous cries sprang up: "Viva il Papa!"
"Long live the pope!"
A connection was formed. A type of communion. And we sensed that hidden from our sight were great depths of emotion, and great depths of thought, which were the source of a simplicity that drew us already into a relation- ship with him. Francis was not polished. He was not re- hearsed. He was simply himself. A man dressed in white, standing in silence.
He had emerged as the leader of the Catholic Church at a very delicate moment. The previous pope, Benedict XVI, had stepped down from his post just two weeks before, fly- ing in a helicopter from the Vatican to Castel Gandolfo, fifteen miles outside of Rome, in an unprecedented decision that had left many in the Church confused and uncertain.
One could not look at Francis standing there, smiling, seemingly at peace, without thinking: There is something in him, deep down, which motivates him, which energizes him, which informs his life. But we could not know at that moment what that "something" was. We were only to discover it slowly during the days that followed.
And so those first days of the new pope became in some ways like a detective story, where each action, each word of Francis, gave us a clue to who he is, and why. The mystery was: What is the source of this man's humility and strength? And the answer was: his faith.
We would discover later that he was drawing not upon the advice of clerical advisers, or media "spinmeisters," but upon deep wells of personal faith, wells whose sources were in the faith of his grandparents and parents and brothers and sisters, and his parish priest when he was a child, in the Marian piety of his youth, and in the books he had read, in the teachings of St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Ignatius of Loyola, in the whole, rich culture of Argentine Catholicism in the 1930s and 1940s, leading to an unfor- gettable experience in 1953 of what he described as "God's mercy" toward him. It was then that he decided to commit his life to the cause of God in this fallen world.
In a talk on the Virgin Mary given on December 8, 2012, Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote something about Mary that seemed to describe also this initial moment of the new pope's silence: "I consider it important to focus on the final sentence of Luke's Annunciation narrative. 'And the angel departed from her.' The great hour of Mary's encounter with God's messenger-in which her whole life is changed- comes to an end, and she remains there alone, with a task that truly surpasses all human capacity." Benedict added: "May Mary Immaculate teach us to listen in silence to the voice of God, and receive his Grace which frees from sin and every selfishness so that we can taste true joy."
These words could serve as a preface to those first mo- ments of encounter with the new pope. Here we were, rather unknowingly beginning a journey of exploration into the heart, mind, and soul of the man who had just taken that unusual papal name Francis.
During the hour before the new pope appeared before the world and the citizens of Rome, he made a telephone call to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, to tell him he would visit him soon. Then, when all was ready, the cardinal proto-deacon Jean-Louis Tauran came to the balcony and at 8:12 p.m., one hour and six minutes after the white smoke, announced the name of the new pope.
The College of Cardinals had chosen Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., age seventy-six, archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, to become the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Francis was only two years younger than Benedict XVI had been when he was elected, in 2005, but he was eighteen years older than Pope John Paul II, the prede- cessor of Benedict, who was fifty-eight when he was elected, in 1978.
The new pope's choice of a name was the first clue we had to his character, even before the new pontiff spoke a word. By choosing Francis instead of other possible names (Pius XIII, John XXIV, Paul VII, John Paul III, Bene- dict XVII, or even Leo XIV), the new pope was signaling that he would chart his own course, break new ground- and that he would do so in great simplicity, and out of deep love for the poor of this world.
At 8:22 p.m.-ten minutes after the announcement by Car- dinal Tauran-Pope Francis, preceded by the cross, ap- peared on the loggia of the basilica, to greet the people and to impart his first apostolic blessing, Urbi et Orbi
(to the city of Rome and to the world). Beside him on the balcony stood Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, O.F.M., of Brazil. This was un- usual, against normal protocol. Normally only the pope's vicar for Rome (Cardinal Vallini), and the Vatican secretary of state (Cardinal Bertone), along with the papal master of ceremonies (Monsignor Marini), would be expected to stand with the new pope on the balcony. Later we would learn that Pope Francis had insisted that Hummes stand with him at that moment. This, too, seemed a clue to the man and his program, for Hummes has criticized the spread of global capitalism, claiming it has contributed to "misery and pov- erty affecting millions around the world." And Pope Francis would later reveal that he had been inspired to take his name from St. Francis of Assisi by Hummes, his good friend, who had whispered to him after his election but before his choice of a name, "Don't forget the poor." At the very least, it showed how Francis could privilege a personal friendship at a moment of great solemnity.
"Brothers and sisters, good evening.
You know that the duty of the conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world to get him. But here we are.
I thank you for your welcome. The diocesan community of Rome has its bishop. Thank you!
First of all, I would like to say a prayer for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI. Let us all pray together for him, that the Lord will bless him and that our Lady will protect him."
The crowd then joined him as he prayed for Benedict, in Italian, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be to the Father.
"And now let us begin this journey," Francis said.
Bishop and people. This journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches. A journey of brotherhood, of love, of trust between us.
Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world, that there might be a great sense of brotherhood.
My hope is that this journey of the Church that we begin today, together with the help of my Cardinal Vicar, here present, may be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city.
And now I would like to give the blessing. But first, first, I want to ask you a favor. Before the Bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord that he bless me-the prayer of the people, asking a Benediction for their Bishop. Let us say in silence this prayer, of you over me.
So once again, there was silence. The silence of prayer. Prayer not of the pope for the people, but of the people for the pope. Then Francis spoke again.
"I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will."
And he gave his blessing, in Latin, in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Brothers and sisters, I am leaving you. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me and I will be with you again soon. . . We will see one another soon.
Tomorrow I want to go to pray to the Madonna, that she may protect all of Rome. Good night and sleep well!
In these first words of his pontificate, Francis did three noteworthy things: First, he spoke of Pope Emeritus Benedict as "Bishop [of Rome] Emeritus Benedict." He did not use the words "Pope Emeritus" to refer to Benedict. Second, he asked the people to pray that the Lord bless him as he began his pontificate, before giving his own blessing of the people. Third, he said he would go the next day to "the Ma- donna," at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where there is an icon of Mary and the child Jesus, traditionally believed to have been painted by St. Luke, called the Salus Populi Romani,
the Protection of the Roman People.
And so, in his first words, Francis set the tone of all that was to follow, one of humility, one of prayer.
Clearly, here was a pope with a deep Franciscan and Marian spirituality. Yet if his strength came from his faith, where had his spirituality come from? What did it mean to him? What could it mean to us? And why had he begun ...