October 4, 2013


Pope Francis’ simple lifestyle

In the nearly seven months since his election, Pope Francis has already been involved in some important and serious matters, including his efforts for peace in the world and the start of a reform of the Roman Curia. However, his greatest success is probably the way he “walks the talk” with his simpler and less formal personality.

This began with the selection of the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi. People awaiting his first appearance were impressed when he asked them for their blessing before he bestowed his. Then we got stories about his riding the bus with the cardinals instead of in a separate car, of his paying his own bill where he had stayed before the conclave, and then his decision to live in the Domus Sanctae Marthae guesthouse instead of in the papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace.

He is determined to dress less formally, eschewing French cuffs, the papal mozzetta cape and the red shoes worn by Pope Emeritus Benedict. He is doing his best to be more accessible to the public, probably driving his security people crazy.

Did you see the story about his acceptance of a car? It’s a 1984 Renault with 186,000 miles. It was the gift of Father Renzo Zocca, a priest who ministers in a working-class neighborhood of Verona, where he built centers for the poor, disabled and elderly. He wrote a letter to the pope, offering him the car.

The pope called him on Father Zocca’s cell phone and the two men talked for half an hour about the priest’s work. Father Zocca renewed his offer of the car, and Pope Francis suggested he give it to the poor. Father Zocca replied that the car had already given much to the poor, and now it had to go to the pope.

When the pope was sure that Father Zocca had another car, he pulled out his appointment book, leafed through the pages and started listing the days and times he could be free, and they finally settled on 3 p.m. on Sept. 7, before the prayer vigil for peace in Syria that the pope led.

They brought the car to the front of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, and the pope greeted Father Zocca. The priest told the pope that he had come from Verona with about 100 townsfolk, but they were stuck outside the Vatican gates for security reasons.

“Let’s go,” the pope said, and hopped into the passenger seat of the car. Father Zocca got behind the wheel and they drove to the gate, where the pope met with the people from Verona. Then Father Zocca gave the pope the keys to the car, the pope got behind the wheel, and drove back to his home.

On Sept. 10, Pope Francis went across the Tiber without an escort of security and aides, but with Domenico Giani, head of Vatican security, to a Roman shelter for migrants and asylum-seekers run by Jesuit Refugee Service. Cameras were forbidden during his visit. It was one of several times he has made visits to the poor, including in Brazil during the events surrounding World Youth Day.

The pope says Mass every day in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae for whoever might be staying there, and sometimes for Vatican workers. His daily homilies have lessons for everyone. He has been particularly strong in telling people that they should not judge others and they should not gossip.

For example, on Sept. 13 the Gospel reading for Mass that day included Christ’s telling his audience that they should stop judging (Lk 6:37-42). Pope Francis said, “Those who judge their neighbors, speaking badly of them, are hypocrites because they don’t have the strength, the courage to look at their own defects. When we judge our brothers and sisters in our heaart, and worse, when we talk about it with others, we are killer Christians,” imitating Cain who committed “the first homicide in history.”

The pope has encouraged dialogue with nonbelievers, and his comments about people with homosexual tendencies were widely reported. He published his first encyclical, on faith. He has had a busy seven months. But probably his style will attract more people than anything else.

—John F. Fink

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