LAGOS — Known for his legendary humility, the new Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis began his papal duties yesterday by shunning the perks offered to the office but adopted a modest approach as he celebrated his first mass as pontiff a day after his dramatic election as the first Latin American leader of the Catholic Church.
The Pope held a mass in the Sistine Chapel together with the cardinals who elected him on Wednesday.
Pope Francis visited a Rome basilica in his first outing was wearing a white cassock, black — not red — shoes, his cardinal’s ring and a silver cross. Dressed in the white papal vestments, Francis was driven to the basilica in a standard-issue Vatican car rather than the papal limousine, in keeping with early signs that the ascetic 76-year-old Argentinian will shun the perks of high office.
The low-key visit to the Salus Populi Romani at the ancient Santa Maria Maggiore church in the Eternal City lasted 20 minutes. The church was closed to the public and just a dozen excited nuns, priests and seminarians were there to greet him. It was a world away from the scene the night before when the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio stepped onto the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica to greet tens of thousands of people after cardinals made him Latin America’s first pope.
After laying the bouquet, Francis moved on to pray at a reliquary of Christ’s manger and at the altar of St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order to which the new pope belongs.
Pope’s First Day in the Papacy
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, himself a Jesuit, explained later: “For us Jesuits, that place is very significant because the founder of our church celebrated his first mass there in 1538.”
According to Federico Lombardi: “It was no secret. Like one who has no cares that everyone knows what he intended to do, at 8:24pm last night in his first public appearance”
He said: “Tomorrow I am going to pray to the Virgin, for the safekeeping of all of Rome.” Then at 8:05 this morning, leaving the Vatican for the first time as pontiff, the newly elected Pope took one of the Gendarmerie’s simple service cars to the papal basilica of St. Mary Major, the oldest and largest church dedicated to the Virgin in Rome. It is also one of the four largest in Rome and claims the King of Spain as its proto-canon. The new pontiff of the Catholic Church chose to enter through one of the basilica’s side doors.
Upon entering the basilica the Pope headed toward the venerated icon of Our Lady “Salus Populi Romani” (Protectress of the Roman People) accompanied by, among others, Cardinal Santos Abril y Castello, archpriest of the basilica and Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome.
The Holy Father, after leaving the Virgin a bouquet of flowers on the altar, prayed silently for about 10 minutes before the main altar that is directly above the crypt containing relics of the crib or manger of the Nativity of Jesus. He also visited the basilica’s Sistine Chapel, which is where St. Ignatius of Loyola celebrated his first Mass after being ordained a priest.
He waited several months, until Christmas Eve 1538, to say his first Mass. “It is a very significant place in Jesuit spirituality,” Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., Director of the Holy See Press Office, noted. Finally, the new Roman Pontiff also stopped to pray before the tomb of St. Pius V, which is also in that chapel.
Pope Francis also greeted the basilica’s chapter of canons, confessors, and priests as well as all the personnel that work there and the faithful and journalists that he met along the way.
The Holy Father left as he had arrived, with a minimal escort and entourage. He was accompanied by Archbishop Georg Ganswein and Msgr. Leonardo Sapienza, S.C.I., respectively prefect and regent of the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household.
Along the way, however, he surprised everyone by first sending an affectionate greeting to children from a nearby school and then by asking his driver to stop by the Domus Internationalis “Paulus VI” near Piazza Navona where he had stayed before entering the Conclave. The Pope greeted those working there, gathered his belongings, and paid his bill.
MASS WITH CARDINAL ELECTORS IN THE SISTINE CHAPEL
The Holy Father’s first liturgical celebration will be with the cardinals who participated in the Conclave at 5:00pm this afternoon. They will concelebrate the “For the Church” Mass in Latin, with the readings in Italian. As the Vatican spokesman commented, “the Pope’s homily will probably be in Italian”. General information regarding the readings and prayers can be found at the Office for Liturgical Celebrations page of the Vatican website.
After that Mass, the Holy Father will go to the apartment prepared for him at the Domus Sanctae Marthae though, as Fr. Lombardi reported, “he will only be there a short time as the Pope is expected to move quickly into the Vatican apartments, which are now almost ready for him.”
The director of the Holy See Press Office commented on the Pope’s first public appearance yesterday evening, greeting the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square. He noted a few significant gestures that characterized the simplicity and serenity of that encounter, beginning with the Pope’s request that the faith pray for him and his choice of vestments. “The new Pope wore neither the red “mozzetta” (the elbow-length cape worn by high-ranking prelates) nor a stole and his pectoral cross was the same simple one that he has worn as bishop and Cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The choice of his name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, strongly recalls the saint’s evangelical spirituality and radical poverty. His papal name is simply ‘Francis’, not ‘Francis I’, since he is the first pontiff to bear that name. If after him another pontiff chooses that name then he will be ‘Francis I’.”
Another gesture made by the new Pope, Fr. Lombardi continued, was that yesterday in the Sistine Chapel, when his cardinal brothers paid him homage, instead of sitting on the papal throne, he stood as he received them. Then, instead of taking the papal car that had been prepared for him to return to the Domus Sanctae Marthae, he took the same minibus he had arrived in along with the other cardinals. He briefly addressed the cardinals at the festive supper, after thanking them, saying “may God forgive you [for what you have done]”.
The director of the Holy See Press Office also answered a question regarding the renewal of the heads of the curial offices in their positions. “It is traditional that in the first days of his pontificate that the new Pope confirms those appointments. In the past few times they were confirmed “until further notice” in the first days of the pontificate as customary and then, at a later moment, little by little the Popes chose their close collaborators with complete freedom. This is a very personal act of government that falls solely to the Pope.”
Regarding the security problems that could arise from the more “informal” style of the new Pope, Fr. Lombardi pointed out that “those responsible for the security of the pontiff are at his service and adapt their methods to protect each Pope in their personal style. John Paul II, for example, was a pontiff who broke with all expectations and went to greet people without any prior warning. Those entrusted with the Pope’s security adjust their methods to protect each in their own way.”
Finally, speaking of Pope Francis’ health, Fr. Lombardi confirmed the report that, when he was young, some 40 years ago, he had a pulmonary illness and part of one lung was removed but that “this has never been an obstacle either in his rhythm or for his work, his life, or his pastoral care, as demonstrated by leading a diocese that requires such dedication as that of Buenos Aires.”