By Michelle Hough, communications officer with Caritas Internationalis
It’s been a week of lots of coffee, very little rest and some very bad, unhealthy food mostly eaten standing up. But it’s also been a week that I’ll tell my grandchildren about: the week Pope Francis was elected and conventional wisdom about what a Pope is supposed to be like was turned on its head.
This morning was Pope Francis’s inaugural mass in St Peter’s Square. It would have been nice to have moseyed on over there at 9am and got a seat at the front ready for the 9.30am mass, but that would have been about as likely as meeting the Pope himself (maybe not so unlikely considering the way things are going with him). So I got there at 6.30am, got a good place half way between the obelisk and St Peter’s and prepared myself for a five hour stand in a very large crowd.
With Pope Francis, we’ve already learned to expect the unexpected. He didn’t quite skydive into St Peter’s Square like the Queen and James Bond did at the Olympic opening ceremony, but he did something almost as sensational. As he was being driven around the square to greet pilgrims ahead of the mass, the Pope got out of his open-top jeep (not the bullet-proof pope-mobile) to bless a disabled man and kiss him on the forehead.
The crowd went wild, and his security guards’ hearts probably missed a few beats too. But, it was an appropriately paternal and moving gesture on St Joseph’s day, which is also Father’s Day in Italy. It was a gesture that was echoed in Pope Francis’s first homily as Pope.
He spoke of our vocation as protectors: “It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about.”
This reminded me of what Franciso Ó Conaire OFM told me about St Francis when I spoke to him last week about the Pope’s choice of name. “St Francis saw the whole of creation as one big family under God,” said Francisco. “If we and the whole of creation are all from the same Father, we’re related to each other. If you’re connected to and are related to each other, you have a responsibility to each other.”
Pope Francis with his choice of name and his choice of words and actions, has shown again and again that he is with us in spirit and we are part of the same family.
“Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross,” Pope Francis said during his homily.
There was row upon row of heads of state, dignitaries and religious representatives at the front of the square during the mass. Pope Francis also touched upon their part in our lives and the state of the world during his homily: “Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world!”
As with the other times I’ve seen Pope Francis speak this past week, he showed again this morning that he’s got an incredible ability to address a crowd of hundreds of thousands and yet, talk to each one of us personally. Not as a preacher, but as a concerned brother or friend: “Caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!!”
I can’t remember the last time I heard someone mention the word ‘tenderness’ in the public sphere. It’s a word that ties perfectly into what Pope Francis said during his first Angelus on Sunday about understanding, mercy and forgiveness. It’s something that we all need lots of.
When I left home this morning I had a thick coat and gloves on. February and March are the coldest months in Rome. When Pope Francis came into St Peter’s Square, the coldness lifted, the sun came out and stayed out and I thought I was going to burn during the two-hour mass. Then he left the square, and I’m really not joking, the sun went back in and a chill returned to St Peter’s Square. It was very, very strange and too perfect a metaphor for this man we barely knew a week ago. It was as though God himself was directing the whole scene.
As I was leaving St Peter’s Square to come back to Caritas to download my photos and upload my blog, I thought about how much darkness seems to be creeping about the world of late and how a lot of people are struggling to find their way. Could this be the light?
“Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others,” said Pope Francis. “To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope! For believers, for us Christians, like Abraham, like Saint Joseph, the hope that we bring is set against the horizon of God, which has opened up before us in Christ. It is a hope built on the rock which is God.”