With less silk, lace and gold than many of his predecessors displayed, Pope Francis on Tuesday was inaugurated at a Holy Mass in St. Peter’s Square during which he appealed to world leaders to be protectors of the poor and the environmen. The Fisherman’s ring, which Pope Francis will now wear. The name and image honor St. Peter, a fisherman and the first pope. The ring is fashioned in gold-plated silver.
But as Sylvia says, the Mass was marked by a simplicity that contrasted with the inauguration in 2005 of his predecessor, Benedict XVI. “We are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude,” said Francis. But even if hadn’t, the comparisons would be inevitable. At 76, Francis walks with a limp and needs help navigating the stairs outside St. Peter’s Basilica. But his presence at the pulpit projects far more strength than what the 85-year-old theologian who came before him was able to muster.
In February, Benedict became the first pontiff in 600 years to resign from the papacy, ending a pontificate under which the Vatican was rocked by scandal and internal divisions. Francis, by contrast, in his every public word and repeated gestures of humility seems to offer the promise of renewal of the Church’s badly damaged image. “One of the great hopes that everyone has is that this will be the Pope who will get people to like the church again,” says Alexander Lucie-Smith, a parish priest in the United Kingdom and a writer for the CatholicHerald. “If he can change the mood music, that will be an incredibly important achievement.”
In his homily, as The New York Times reports, the pope “offered a passionate pledge … to serve ‘the poorest, the weakest, the least important,’ striking the same tones of humility as have marked the days since he was elected last week.”
And in that homily, which is posted here, the pope said:
“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. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!”
Francis seems less skilled in delivering prepared remarks than speaking off the cuff or leaning forward to offer a joke to the person in front of him. But his words were chosen carefully. In attendance were delegations from 132 countries and religious organizations, including U.S. Vice President Joe Biden; Cristina Kirchner, president of Pope Francis’ native Argentina; the German Chancellor Angela Merkel; the Zimbabwean despot Robert Mugabe; Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians; and dozens of other dignitaries. “It was a remarkable homily,” says Jason Berry, author of Render Unto Rome, a book about about financial impropriety in the Catholic Church. “He’s calling the leaders of the world to a moral agenda in a fashion that we have not seen in a many years. No disrespect to Benedict, but he became so compromised by the sex abuse crisis and by the Vatileaks scandal that his stature as moral statesman on the global stage was compromised.”
Francis may be on the way to changing the tune in the Catholic Church. The question is whether he will be able to get the rest of the Vatican to follow. Benedict came into the papacy loaded with hopes for reform, only to get bogged down the spreading sex abuse scandal and viciousinfighting within the Vatican. On March 19, the morning before Francis spoke, the Washington Post published an article claiming that as an Argentine archbishop Francis may have moved too slowly to stop priests under his authority from abusing children. It was a reminder of the challenges the new Pope will have to overcome if he is going to succeed. “The Pope cannot be a champion of human rights and an advocate for the world’s poor if he is continuously trailed and followed by the sexual abuse crisis,” says Berry. It was only appropriate, that Francis ended his homily with another one of his common refrains. “Pray for me,” he said.