The powerful innovations of Francis’ pontificate

From Andrea Tornelli at Vatican Insider: Pope Francis celebrates Mass in chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae at Vatican

Francis’ alarm clock goes off at 4:45 every morning in room 201 in St. Martha’s House, when everything is still pitch black. Such an early start to the day means Francis has to have a siesta after lunch. Juan Perón called this time of rest an “almost liturgical must” which made it possible for him to fit “two mornings” into his day.

The first few hours of Francis’ day are dedicated to prayer and meditation on the Readings which the Pope comments on, in the brief homilies he gives in his morning masses in the chapel of the place he likes to call the “boarding school”, commonly known as St. Martha’s House: a simple and modern building decorated with light-coloured marble and stained glass. The Bishop of Rome sits in the pews at the back of the chapel to pray.

These spontaneous but not completely improvised morning preachings are one of the most important changes of the new pontificate. And this is where the third leg of our journey begins. The Pope is assisted by cardinals, bishops or visiting priests and the masses are attended mostly by Vatican staff – from IOR staff to rubbish collectors – and their families. Francis greets all of them one by one and then has breakfast in the St. Martha’s House “common room”. For Francis, being with people and hugging them one by one is in no way a chore or a waste of time: in Argentina he would spend whole nights listening to confessions without wearing his cardinal’s insignia, so anonymously, when big pilgrimages to Our Lady of Luján would take place.

The man who deals with requests to participate in the Pope’s morning masses and sends out invitations is a priest from the northern Italian city of Bergamo, Fr. Tino Scotti. The Pope/parish priest breaks the Gospel down for and with the faithful who attend the mass, in such a way that Vatican Radio is able to provide a summary of what Francis said, just two hours later. This has helped make these morning celebrations popular across the world. Bergoglio is a big admirer of Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges and once invited him to the high school where he was teaching, so his pupils could meet him. Every morning Francis comes up with new and effective illustrations to his messages, such as the “babysitter” church, the concept of “God spray”, confession not being like a “dry cleaner’s”, “sitting room Christians”, “museum-piece Christians” and “starch-pressed Christians”. Then there are his references to “prayers of courtesy”, the “balm of memory”, “adolescent progressivism” and “pastoral customs” which instead of fostering people’s faith, complicate it.

But the most striking thing about Francis is the simplicity of his words. Particularly those about tenderness and forgiveness: “The message of Jesus is mercy. For me, I say this humbly, it is the Lord’s most powerful message.” This message has encouraged people across the world to return to the Church and to confession after years of estrangement.

“The Pope preaches like he used to do in Buenos Aires and no one in the history of the Church has broken down the Gospel as he does. We have still not realised the theological significance of this. People are aware that these are not just abstract reflections,” the founder of the Bose community, Enzo Bianchi told Italian newspaper La Stampa.

Francis has quoted his grandmother Rosa Margherita Vassallo in many of his homilies, even the big ones in St. Peter’s Square. She used to explain little Jorge the importance of Jesus’ resurrection and not being too attached to money because “burial shrouds don’t have pockets”. And when her Jesuit grandson was about to be ordained, she said to him: “Celebrate mass, every mass, as if it were your first and last.” Francis’ grandmother testified the faith of the simple and ordinary people, which is something that links the Pope to John Paul I. The elderly archpriest of the Italian town of Canale d’Agordo would tell Albino Luciani who was a seminarian at the time: “Remember when you preach, that even the little old lady sat at the back of the church who didn’t go to school must be able to understand you.”

During his discussions with the Apostolic Nuncios, the Pope’s ambassadors across the world, who have been entrusted with the task of selecting candidates for the episcopacy, Francis urged them “to choose pastors who are close to their people, fathers and brothers, who are meek, patient and merciful,” who “love interior poverty” and live that externally with a simple lifestyle. They should not have “the mentality of a prince” and should steer clear of ecclesiastical “careerism”. He warned against “triumphalism” and should not place too much trust in wealthy bodies within the Church. This shows a strong continuity with what his predecessor Benedict XVI said and wrote.

Historian Andrea Riccardi said “it seems to me that by putting together the old and the new, he has created a language made up of gestures that give meaning to the great words of faith. This is clear for everyone to see when you look at how the people relate to Francis. He has only been in office for one hundred days but his message has gone far…” Now bishops need to get in tune with this approach which is purely evangelical and not so clerical.

“Something similar happened with John XXIII,” Riccardi went on to say. “Getting in tune is not always easy. The Church is not a radio with a channel selection button. It is a process that encounters great enthusiasm but also resistance.”

“Francis represents a powerful provocation for everyone. Providence has given us this wake up call. Each one of us is trying to follow the Pope in our own personal way. It’ll take some time…,” said Cardinal Angelo Scola. Meanwhile, the bishops of the northern Italian region of Lombardy have met and announced that they feel the responsibility of taking on the challenge of Francis’ new style and language. Since his election, Francis has often said : “I am ok, I have not lost my inner peace, I have not lost any sleep over a surprising event like the one which happened to me. And I consider this a gift from God.”

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23 Responses to The powerful innovations of Francis’ pontificate

  1. Toad says:

    “Bergoglio is a big admirer of Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges…”
    ..and so is Toad.(Aren’t we all?)
    Borges himself wrote:
    “Heaven and hell seem out of proportion to me: the actions of men do not deserve so much.”
    …Which is exactly how Toad might have put it, if he’d been a better writer.


  2. Frere Rabit says:

    Powerful innovations? Powerful stuff…

    Having read the article, I do not see what “innovations” are being referred to, let alone “powerful innovations”. Every word quoted from Pope Francis seems to be what you would expect a Pope to say, and the fact that he is saying Mass in his preferred chapel is not an “innovation” but a matter of style. The whole hype about Francis being a different kind of Pope is now becoming a little desperate. He is simply a different Pope. Quite a good one, on the pastoral level, as far as I can see. Time will tell.


  3. kathleen says:

    Yes, I quite agree Rabit.

    Besides, and whether it is the intention or not of those who keep saying this I don’t know, but each time they point out the “innovations” (nearly always seen as marvellous) it seems like it’s a little dig at our dear Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who just happened to do things in a different way.
    Both are/were good Popes, perhaps one could even say VERY good Popes,…. just, er, slightly different in character and in the way they use/used their charisms.


  4. Toad says:

    Toad agrees with Rabit and Kathleen, as usual.
    Nothing new under the sun.
    More modifications than Innovations – so far.
    Did appreciate the socialist sailor bit particularly, though.

    They say the devil is in the details, don’t they?


  5. JabbaPapa says:

    Yes, I quite agree Rabit.



  6. srdc says:

    Pope Francis is a centrist. The kind who does not cater to clericalists or to cult feminists. Just the kind of person the church needs right now.

    That being said, I have an announcement, I am joining the community of the epiphany sisters in Sarasota, Florida. Please pray for me as I start this new journey in my life.


  7. johnhenrycn says:

    God speed, SRDC! As a novice or lay member? Whichever, you will be a valuable addition to their community, and I will remember you in my prayers for vocations.


  8. srdc says:

    Thanks JH. I will be a candidate or postulant. The Noviciate comes after that.


  9. Frere Rabit says:

    SRDC you have my prayers for the true discernment of your vocation. I have not seen you around for a while. Good to hear your news! “The eyes of all look to you in hope, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season.” Amen.


  10. Brother Burrito says:

    God love you srdc.


  11. The Raven says:

    God bless you, SRDC, my prayers are with you.


  12. srdc says:

    Thanks everybody. It took me a while to find the right community for me. I am very excited about this and cannot wait!


  13. kathleen says:

    Please forgive my lateness in sending you my joyful congratulations too. This is wonderful news, and I hope you will be very happy in your new community.
    Do keep in touch with us on CP&S (if you can) to let us know how you are, and also to add your always interesting and wise comments to the discussions on here.
    May God Bless you abundantly.


  14. srdc says:

    Thanks kathleen. I will keep you posted if possible.


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  16. DonnaLiane says:

    I’d like to know you see Francis and his innovations in light of his history 5 years on and his past history as well. Most of what this says, appears media spin to make us accept his ‘style’. I would never call his words ‘simple’ as it implies easy to understand his meaning. In actual fact I think his words are deliberately somewhat ambiguous in order to allow any side to interpret them at their own will. What part of “Do not commit adultery” could be mistaken. And yet Francis by his ambiguous words has inspired more varied interpretations leading people to forget God’s commands than even a Protestant could procure.


  17. johnhenrycn says:

    Amusing, sort of, to read the comments from July 15th, 2013 on this thread by Frere Rabit, Kathleen and JabbaPapa expressing support for Pope Francis, each of whom have since…

    …not that I was very prescient either, having finally thrown in the towel only this year.


  18. DonnaLiane says:

    We are afterall optimists


  19. johnhenrycn says:

    Moderator: please delete my last two comments, which although innocent, are unfortunate.

    No worries, JH. Done.


  20. kathleen says:

    @ JH

    Amazing! Unbelievable! Did I really say over five years ago that I thought (or more like, hoped) that Francis was going to be “a very good Pope”? How WRONG I was! In the relatively short space of time since I uttered those mistaken words, Francis has shown himself to be surely one of the worst popes in the history of the Catholic Church. An anti-Catholic Pope! (Now there’s an oxymoron!) Perhaps one could even say, a heretic…. but I leave that final conclusion for those more fit to judge this terrible Pontificate.


  21. DonnaLiane says:

    At least pride hasn’t blinded you guys to Truth. The initial hope and optimism is natural. I won’t be smug about ‘knowing’ early. I had supernatural help or I would have given him the benefit of the doubt as long as I could.


  22. mmvc says:

    Not sure why, but I had an awful sinking feeling as soon as I saw him on that balcony for the first time. This resulted in months if not years of scruples and worry, not to mention struggles with friends and family members who fell for the ‘humblest Pope ever’ thing. Many think differently now and hope, as I do, that some good will come from this horrible trial.


  23. DonnaLiane says:

    God bless you mmvc+++


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