Pope Francis eschews trappings of papacy on first day in office
It wasn’t quite a bus – his days of taking public transport may finally be over – but it certainly wasn’t the vehicle of pontiffs, either. The car in which Pope Francis travelled on his first day as head of the Roman Catholic church was a standard-issue, black saloon.
Not for him the Mercedes with the papal number plate SCV1. That – along with the ermine-trimmed mozzetta and the gold pectoral cross – had been left behind. The new pope, said a Vatican spokesman, seemed to have brought "a new style of doing things".
First on the papal agenda on Thursday was a "spontaneous" visit – alluded to on Wednesday night by the just-elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio – to the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in central Rome. The church, home to an altar where the Jesuit founder Saint Ignatius of Loyola celebrated his first mass in 1538, had played host to Francis when he was a mere cardinal and archbishop.
Now, he was returning as the world’s first Jesuit and Latin American pontiff. Not that there was much difference in the way he behaved, according to one priest, Father Ludovico Melo. "It was a meeting with a father," he said, "and not with a pope."
It was decidedly as a leader, however, that the 76-year-old from Buenos Aires later conducted a mass in the Sistine Chapel for the cardinals who elected him there. In a homily delivered without notes, quietly but determinedly, Francis urged the church to focus on the Gospel and "always walk in the presence of the Lord" to avoid becoming, in effect, "a compassionate NGO".
"We can walk all we want, we can build many things, but if we don’t proclaim Jesus Christ, something is wrong," he said, speaking in Italian, rather than the Latin in which his predecessor gave his first homily.
"We would become a compassionate NGO and not a church which is the bride of Christ," he added.
Wearing a mitre and carrying the pastoral staff, Francis compared people whose values are worldly rather than spiritual to children building sandcastles that come crashing down. He said: "He who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil. When we don’t proclaim Jesus Christ, we proclaim the worldliness of the devil, the worldliness of the demon."
Soon after, Francis went to the apostolic palace to break the seal on the papal apartments. It will be several days, however, before he can move in; the Vatican said there was still some repair work that needed to be done. In the meantime Francis will sleep in the Santa Martha house, where the cardinals spent conclave. His suite is number 201. His bed, made of dark wood, bears an engraving of Christ.
After his visit to Santa Maria Maggiore, Francis, dressed in a simple white cassock and zucchetto, decided while on the way back that he wanted to attend to an altogether more mundane matter: the collection of his luggage from the residence he had been staying at before conclave and the payment of his bill. Despite in effect being the boss of the church-run guest house, the Vatican said the new pope felt it was important "to set a good example" by paying his dues.
Asked whether Francis’s apparent desire to go on last-minute outings might cause a headache for Vatican security, Father Thomas Rosica, the Vatican spokesman’s English-speaking assistant, said: "It’s the pope who is in charge and he will do what he wants to do."
Smiling, Rosica said the behaviour seen so far recalled that of the "rule-breaking" John Paul II, who occasionally liked to go where he was not supposed to. The security services, he added, would have to adapt to their new boss, rather than the other way around.
As a simple-living archbishop in Argentina, Bergoglio shunned the official residence for a small apartment where he cooked for himself. He sometimes took the bus through the urban maze of Buenos Aires.
"If he brings that same desire for a simple lifestyle to the papal court, I think they are all going to be in shock," the Rev Thomas Reese, author of an authoritative book on the Vatican, told the Associated Press. "This may not be a man who wants to wear silk and furs."
John Thavis, author of The Vatican Diaries, wrote on his blog: "One of the first things a new pope hears is: ‘Holy Father, it’s always done this way.’ In his first 24 hours in office, Pope Francis has already given indications that he may not be intimidated by those words, as he creates his own style of being pope."
While he may be doing things his way, Francis shows no sign of forgetting his predecessor. One of the first things he did on Wednesday evening, the Vatican said, was to telephone the emeritus pope Benedict XVI, ensconced in the papal villas at Castel Gandolfo since 28 February. The two popes – current and emeritus – would, said the spokesman Federico Lombardi, meet at some point in the near future but "not imminently". It was "not planned", he added, that Benedict would attend his successor’s installation on Tuesday.
Lombardi, himself a Jesuit, said he was stunned to have a member of the Society of Jesus as pontiff. "For us the idea of a Jesuit pope is very strange," he said, explaining that historically the Jesuits had considered themselves "servants, not authorities, in church". In a statement, the Jesuit superior general, Adolfo Nicolás, said Bergoglio’s election "opens for the church a path full of hope … at this crucial time".
As they emerged from the secretive confines of conclave, some of the cardinal electors spoke out about the voting process that had led to the first ever pontiff named after Saint Francis of Assisi. "It was very moving as the votes were being counted and the names resounding out: Bergoglio, Bergoglio, and suddenly the magic number was reached and there was applause," said the primate of all Ireland, Seán Brady, at a briefing at the Irish College in Rome.
Timothy Dolan, the larger-than-life archbishop of New York, praised the new pope’s "beautiful sincerity and simplicity and humility". He said that Francis had used a dinner in the Casa Santa Martha on Wednesday night to give a self-deprecating thanks to the cardinals who had made him the church’s head.
"He toasted us and he simply said, ‘May God forgive you,’ which brought the house down.
"In other words: ‘I hope you don’t regret this later.’"