- Posted March 12, 2014 by
Vatican City State
This iReport is part of an assignment:
First Person: Your essays
THE CHURCH IN SPRINGTIME: A YEAR OF POPE FRANCIS
It had been raining all afternoon but despite the bad weather many had come to Saint Peter’s Square. As usual, there were flags from different nations, singing and shouting in different languages—all this had always been a staple at Saint Peter’s Square. But that evening was different: people had come to see what the chimney would produce after it had yielded black smoke on two earlier ballotings. I was with the throng, among those who were closest to the Basilica. It was a scenario of joyful anticipation.
It was already dark when the proverbial white smoke issued from the chimney, telling everyone that a new pope has been chosen. This was welcomed with spontaneous applause and cheers. Then, as if it had been deliberately orchestrated, the sky began to clear and the evening became pleasant—cool and cloudless. It prepared the next scene: the tolling of the bells, the entry of the army of Swiss guards, the music played by the brass band, then lights from the balcony. A few more minutes and then appeared an elderly cardinal announcing the words “Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum HABEMUS PAPAM Georgium Marium Bergoglio qui sibi nomen imposuit Franciscum.” There was a momentary silence. Probably, the names were not anticipated: neither Bergoglio, for he was not considered among the strong contenders, nor Francis, for no pope had previously taken that name. A great applause nevertheless followed this short lull. There were roars of approval all around, shouts of “Viva il Papa!” and I distinctly heard a young priest affirming “Francis! Oh, this is revolutionary!”
Then came out the new Pope who took the name Francis. After a short message and before giving his first apostolic blessing, he asked the people to pray for him, to beseech the Lord to bless him, their Bishop. A solemn silence reigned at Saint Peter’s Square. Pope Francis broke the silence with his first blessing as Pope. He took leave greeting everyone with an informal “Good night and sleep well!” To this the crowd responded in jubilation.
To my estimate, that evening was ominous. There were several things that kept me awake that night. The new Pope was non-European; he took the name Francis; he bowed and asked his flock to pray for him their shepherd; he ended his first speech in a very candid, familiar greeting. And the words from the young priest: “Revolutionary!”
The weeks and months that followed confirmed the charisma of this new Pope. Saint Peter’s Square is always packed with huge crowds during general audiences and the Sunday Angelus. Like the candor in his first discourse, he ends every Sunday gathering with “Buon pranzo!” (“Have a good lunch!”) People are hanging on to what this Pontiff would say. A lot has been said about the novelty in his words and deeds, how different groups would interpret them, perhaps according to how it would suit their beliefs and this would give rise to a myriad of discussions.
In my case I took advantage of this privilege that I am in Rome to follow closely what this new Pope had to say and what he would do. Most of the time I would take his words from my point of view as a priest, as one who is a co-worker in ministering to the people. In sharing my thoughts and reflection on the first year of papacy, I also take this bias of one who has the task of shepherding.
I would focus and say that I see the first year of Pope Francis’ pontificate as one of preaching joy and mercy. He told the faithful gathered at the Palm Sunday mass: “Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad!” And perhaps this is what makes the Pope an even more relevant figure in today’s world. Under Francis we would expect a revitalization of the Church, that he would continue to make it closer to those in the peripheries. It is an echo of the action of the other Francis, the man of Assisi, rebuilding the church of Jesus.
The spring motif in which Pope Francis has been elected is an apt symbol of the beginning of his papacy and the years that will follow. Perhaps it is not a mere coincidence that his pontificate coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. If Vatican II opened the windows for the spring air to come in, the papacy of Pope Francis opens the doors for the church and her pastors to go out—and here I would like to quote from his homily to priests on Holy Thursday: “May [Jesus] renew his Spirit in our hearts, that this anointing may spread to everyone, even to those ‘outskirts’ where our faithful people most look for it and most appreciate it.”
March 13, 2013
1) the pope blessing the people
2) the crowd in the evening
3) the white smoke
4) Habemus Papam!
March 16, 2013
5) the city of Rome welcoming the new Pope
March 19, 2013
6) “Peter’s Successor” inauguration of Pope Francis
October 27, 2013
7) my first personal encounter with Pope Francis (photo by Fotografia Felici, Rome)
January 3, 2014
8) Pope Francis' image now at Basilica of Saint Paul
March 6, 2014
9) my second personal encounter with Pope Francis (photo by Fotografia Felici, Rome)
March 11, 2014
10) TIME Man of the Year issue among my other readings