Vatican City, 19 March 2013 (VIS) – To protect with tenderness. That is the call to each of us. It is the new Pope's message. Perhaps it will be the directive of his government. Clear, simple, deep, compelling. Spoken in Italian and lasting no more than twenty minutes. The crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square remained attentive throughout the celebration, which lasted just under the two hours that had been planned.
“This is a punctual Pope. Even a bit ahead of schedule. At least that's how it was today,” said a German pilgrim, advanced in age, who had been waiting for hours in front of a giant screen set up in Via della Conciliazione, the street that runs in front of the Vatican. He had been watching as, little by little, thousands more gathered in the square. He was right. The Pope's Jeep appeared in St. Peter's Square around 8:50am. Standing up in the back, Pope Francis in his white cassock, his mozzetta, his black shoes, and his pectoral cross (the one he has had since being appointed bishop) smiled as he greeted and blessed those he passed. People began to run to him with their flags, their children, their friends, their sick... And then Francis picked up a baby in his arms and, to everyone's astonishment, got down from the car. What was going on? He had seen a handicapped man and wanted to embrace and bless him.
This is the new Pope: the Argentine, the first Pope from the Americas, the first Francis, leader of the Catholic Church who was presented to the world today and who, in the few days since his election, has excited so many. People already know him as the “close” Pope, the “simple” Pope, the Pope who “is like a father”, who greets the crowds with a “good afternoon” and says goodbye with an “enjoy your lunch”. He is the Pope who, first thing this morning, made a phone call to his native land where his countrymen and women had gathered in Buenos Aires' Plaza de Mayo. Surprising everyone with the call, live over the phone, he left them with a message: “Do not be afraid.” They were the same words spoken by one of his predecessors in 1978, the Polish Pope Karol Wojtyla, Blessed John Paul II.
This is the first time that Pope Francis has taken the Popemobile through the square and the people wanted to see him better, closer... The new Pope moved through them and then went back around again in what was, perhaps, the longest trip that a Roman pontiff has ever made around the square. He travelled over the ground that, twenty-one centuries earlier, had been occupied by the Circus of Nero. The ground where modern investigators have confirmed the tradition of the site of St. Peter's martyrdom: Peter the fisherman, the first Pope of the Catholic Church, whose remains are still conserved in the same place. Of that ancient vista perhaps the only thing that remains is the great obelisk, brought to Rome from Heliopolis by order of the emperor Caligula. It is the same obelisk that hundreds of workers have been toiling around all night to prepare for the historic event.
Today, twenty-one centuries later, there are other witnesses and the spectacle is different but the protagonist is again a “common man”. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., Argentine, 76 years-old, a chemical technician. His followers may number over 1,165,714,000: the number of Catholics in the world, which is, approximately, one out of every six. In the “bleachers” this time are men and women who have come from over 132 countries around the world. They have come “because they wanted to”, as the Holy See emphasized: “There were no 'invitations' sent out. All who wish to come are warmly welcomed. It must be made clear that no one has privileged status or will be refused.” And so they have come: six sovereigns, three crown princes, 31 heads of state, 11 heads of government... more than 250 Catholic bishops and 1200 priests and seminarians... But those numbers do not count the men, women, youth, elderly, those of every type, faith, language, culture, class, status, and opinion who also came.
On the terrace of the Charlemagne Wing (the left-hand side colonnade of the square, if you are facing the Basilica) were positioned the cameras of some of the nearly 6000 journalists covering the event. Some of them saw the dawn; others were even there at 4:00am. For many of them, this will be their final event to cover after following developments day-by-day, including the almost-daily press conferences held by Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, who yesterday was presented with a plaque and press pass by the Italian Agency for the Associated Press as a thank you on behalf of all the journalists.
But the ceremony begins. Within the Basilica, the Holy Father Francis venerates St. Peter at his tomb. At this important moment he chose to be accompanied by the ten Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches who were in attendance. Why? Perhaps to demonstrate the universality of the Catholic Church with its two rites, Oriental and Latin, that are equal in essence and dignity. From the Confession, the tomb of St. Peter, the Pope reascended to the main floor of the Basilica, following the Book of the Gospels, the papal pallium, and the new Fisherman’s Ring.
Outside in the square, ecclesiastics who are not concelebrating have been seated to the left of the altar (always if you are facing the Basilica) and, to the right, political and civil authorities. Beauty is present in the splendour of the chants intoned by the Sistine Chapel Choir and the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music. The first Gregorian chant is the “Laudes Regiae” (Christ is King). At the Offertory during the Mass a motet composed by Pierluigi da Palestrina precisely for the Inauguration of the Pontificate will be sung: “Tu es pastor ovium” (You Are the Shepherd of the Sheep). At the conclusion of the Mass will come the “Te Deum” with verses alternating between Gregorian chant and a melody by Tomas Luis de Victoria.
There are three important moments of the ceremony inaugurating the new pontiff's Petrine ministry before the Mass begins. The first is the imposition of the pallium made from lamb's wool. Cardinal proto-deacon Jean-Louis Tauran, the one who made the “habemus Papam” announcement from the Basilica’s loggia last Wednesday, today will place the pallium on the Holy Father's shoulders. It represents the “lost, sick, or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life”.
Then the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, will bestow the Fisherman's Ring on Francis. It bears the image of Peter holding the keys and is made of gold-plated silver. It was designed by the Italian artist Enrico Manfrini for Pope Paul VI but was never cast in metal. Its wax cast was conserved by Paul VI's personal secretary Archbishop Pasquale Macchi and, on his death, by Archbishop Macchi's colleague Msgr. Ettore Malnati who had it cast and proposed it, through Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, as one of the choices for the new Roman Pontiff.
Thirdly, six cardinals, two from each of the Orders, will make a symbolic act of obedience on behalf of all the other cardinals. This act of obedience was already made, by the Cardinal electors at the end of the Conclave and by the rest of the College of Cardinals when they met with him the next day. The people of God will be represented in the act of obedience made by the faithful who are present when the Pope takes possession of the Cathedral of Rome—St. John Lateran—in the next few days.
Now the Mass begins. It is the Mass for the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church. Concelebrating are all the cardinals present in Rome, joined by six Patriarchs and Major Eastern Rite Archbishops; the Secretary of the College of Cardinals; Fr. Jose Rodriguez Carballo, O.F.M., superior general of the Order of Friars Minor; and Fr. Adolfo Nicolas Pachon, S.J., superior general of the Society of Jesus. In total they will be around 180 concelebrating with Pope Francis.
The Gospel, the culminating moment of the Liturgy of the Word is proclaimed in Greek, in deference to the Eastern Rite. Afterwards, Pope Francis gives his homily in Italian. The square is silent and the Holy Father is calm. “It seems like he has always been Pope,” someone remarks as soon as they hear his first words. The text was given to journalists beforehand with the warning, “Be attentive! This Pope loves to improvise!” But in this moment he stuck with the prepared text.
The Pope speaks of St. Joseph, the example he gives us, of his vocation, his fidelity, his availability, of how he knew how to listen to God, of how he was attentive to everything going on around him. This is the preamble of his homily, then he arrives at its heart, connecting St. Joseph's vocation to that of us all, each of us, and to the Pope's own vocation as well. He concludes with a resounding entreaty: our responsibility to protect with tenderness, to not destroy what we have received. From creation to ourselves and those around us, and especially the poorest. “We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!” Pope Francis exhorted. We are all called “so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!” So ended the homily of the new Bishop of Rome, the homily of the Mass inaugurating his pontificate.
In the square a young man says of the quiet: “We were silent but a seething volcano is within us.” He was one of the many young Italians who have come with their children, some of which are just babies. Beside him is a group from Lebanon who remember John Paul II and Benedict XVI's trips to their land. “Francis will come too. We're sure of it!”
At the end, after the Mass, the Pope went to pray before the statue of the Virgin that stood next to the altar. Then, amidst the crowd's cries of “Francesco, Francesco, Francesco”, the Gregorian chant, and the thundering bells of St. Peter's, the new Holy Father returned to the Basilica. After removing his liturgical vestments, he went to the Altar of Confession, standing in front of which he received the greetings of the diplomatic representatives of the 132 countries and various organizations that had attended the Mass.
In the next few days, Pope Francis will have to figure out how to answer the millions of email messages that have already been received, despite the fact that he still doesn't have an official address.