Francesco Frenzy

Pope Francis receives a pink heart-shaped sign with "Viva Papa Francesco" on it at his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square. March 27, 2013. Photo by Gregorio Borgia

Rome is going through a Francesco frenzy.  People love Papa Francesco, or Pope Francis.  This past Wednesday at his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square the crowd, including lots of young people, went wild chanting “FRAN- CHESS- CO” “FRAN- CHESS-CO” as he went through the square in his Popemobile.  My colleague AP photographer Gregorio Borgia snapped the above photo of someone handing the Pope a big pink heart with the words VIVA PAPA FRANCESCO.

So far, Pope Francis has been making a lot of moves that has won over the local population.  This week he announced that he intends to stay in the Domus Santa Marta, the residence inside the Vatican where the Cardinals stay during the Conclave and is used as a sort-of Vatican hotel the rest of the time.  Cardinal Bergoglio had room 207 when he was in the Conclave and as Pope he was moved to the larger papal suite, room 201.  But that was supposed to be a temporary arrangement while they were doing some repairs on the much larger Papal Apartment in the Apostolic Palace.

This week Pope Francis surprised the public by letting it be known that for the time being he intends to stay at the Santa Marta. The Santa Marta apartment is 90 square meters (roughly 1000 square feet) compared to the Papal apartment which is 300 square meters (3230 square feet).  Apparently Pope Francis likes being able to say Mass in the morning with the priests, bishops, Cardinals and other visitors at Santa Marta and being able to share his meals with them.  Before he left Rome, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston noted that the Pope is like a “prisoner in a museum”.  Perhaps this is a way for the new Pope to feel less like a prisoner, isolated in luxury and give him more contact with the real world.

I also think that perhaps Benedict XVI got trapped in the Vatileaks situation with a corrupt, backstabbing curia running things in the Apostolic Palace and then being surrounded in the Papal apartments with his loyal secretary, his devoted Memores (the lay women who care for him) and his sneaky butler who was copying documents and ferrying them out of the Vatican.  Perhaps by staying at the Santa Marta, Pope Francis is creating a little distance for himself.  He will use the Papal apartment for meetings in the Papal library and for the weekly Angelus address from the window.

One of my blog readers, Philip Hurst, has suggested that perhaps Pope Francis living in the Santa Marta residence is not such a good idea.  Philip wrote to me, “you cannot have a pope at the apex of this pyramid who wants to be “one of the boys”, as Pope Francis seems to want to be, living and eating and mucking in with cardinals, Vatican workers, bishops and priests. Inevitably it will dilute his authority. There is a very good reason why the pope lives (or has done for many papacies) in the Apostolic Palace. In his desire to be “ordinary” I think that Francis is being naïve, ironic though it may be to label any Jesuit as naïve.”

Philip Hurst may be right, but in general, I feel the Pope is surrounded by so many trappings of power that his authority is at little risk of being diluted by “mucking in with Cardinals” (I love that expression).  My impression is that many in the Catholic Church think that a little more “collegiality” would be best of the Vatican. Personally, I don’t think Pope Francis is naive, and the decision to stay at Santa Marta for the moment has been a good public relations move, but it also might be a good practical move.

Moving on, as I am writing this post, Pope Francis is in a juvenile prison on the outskirts of Rome.  Breaking with the annual Vatican Holy Thursday tradition of going to Saint John the Lateran Basilica in Rome to wash the feet of priests, Pope Francis decided to wash the feet of young prisoners at the Casal Del Marmo Youth Detention Center.

Pope Francis kissing tattoo-ed foot at Juvenile Detention Center on Holy Thursday. March 28, 2013. Freeze Frame of Vatican TV video.

Only Vatican TV was allowed inside to protect the privacy of the minors, so I cannot recount personally anything of what happened, but I can tell you what the Vatican shared with us.  Apparently the Pope washed the feet of 12 prisoners, among them men and two young women, white people and black people, people of various religious backgrounds (including two Muslims), and the BIG NEWS is that he washed the feet of WOMEN. Yes, women.  For any of my blog readers who are interested in questions of women and how Pope Francis will deal with questions of women in the church, this is important.   Father James Martin SJ, a Jesuit scholar who has written “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything” told my Vaticanista AP wire colleague Nicole Winfield,

“The pope’s washing the feet of women is hugely significant, because including women in this part of the Holy Thursday Mass has been frowned on–and even banned–in some dioceses. It shows the all-embracing love of Christ, who ministered to all he met: man or woman, slave or free, Jew or Gentile.”

Pope Francis kisses a woman's foot at Juvenile Detention Center in Rome. March 28, 2013. Freeze frame of Vatican TV video.

Now I have been writing and editing the Pope Chrism Mass story for years.  And I may be forgetting something, but if my memory serves me, the feet have always been pale, white, pasty, priestly feet.  What a joy tonight to see the Pope washing and kissing a tattoo-ed foot, a foot with calluses on every toe, a black foot, and a woman’s foot.  Pretty cool, bring on that “all-embracing love.”

Here is a bit of what the Pope said to the prisoners in his homily:

“Among us the one who is highest up must be at the service of others. This is a symbol, it is a sign – washing your feet means I am at your service. And we are too, among each other, but we don’t have to wash each other’s feet each day. So what does this mean? That we have to help each other…sometimes I would get angry with one someone, but we must let it go and if they ask a favor of do it!

Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty, as a priest and bishop I must be at your service. But it is a duty that comes from my heart and a duty I love.”

I said in an earlier post that Pope Francis was saying all the right things, but he needed to back up his words with actions.  Watching him kneel on that hard stone floor, washing and kissing tattoo-ed feet and then smiling warmly at the inmates in a juvenile prison, I thought “this is a good start.”

Pope Francis smiles at an inmate after washing his feet at Juvenile Detention Center in Rome. March 28, 2013. Freeze frame of video shot by Vatican TV.

 

24 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Ciao Chow Linda
    2013/03/28

    A good start indeed Trisha. So far, I am really encouraged by what I see and hear about our new pope. I hope he continues to demonstrate his compassion for the world’s poor, underprivileged and underserved people with more global actions, not just these symbolic Holy Week activities. He is a breath of much needed fresh air.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/03/29

      Thank you Linda — this Pope is certainly fun for us journalists to cover. Let’s see if he continues in the same direction that he has started.

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Adri
    2013/03/29

    This is the kind of thing I was hoping for, and the washing of women’s feet is just icing on the cake. I too am confident that Pope Francis is savvy enough to be able to live, walk and eat among others and still have an effective Papacy. How wonderful that he went to the juvenile offenders and spent time with them. In the photo he has such a wonderful smile. I am hopeful that this is the “real” Pope Francis and that we will see lots more. Thanks, Trisha!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/03/29

      Thanks Adri — I will keep on watching and update on what I see from here. Tonight I will be covering the Pope at the Way of the Cross ceremony at Rome’s Colosseum. I always love covering this event because it is so visually powerful and moving.

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    Kathleen Botsford
    2013/03/29

    This warms my heart. I am so very grateful for you and your blog to connect with the “real” Vatican in this intimate and personal way. It makes me feel like an insider with a back stage pass to history.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/03/29

      Thank you Kathleen, that is so sweet of you.

      Reply
  4. Avatar
    Lega Medcalf
    2013/03/29

    He seems like a very kind man and I like that he is humble. Perhaps there is hope?

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/03/29

      I think he is kind and humble, but he has a huge job ahead of him reforming the church.

      Reply
  5. Avatar
    Pauline
    2013/03/29

    I love that last freeze frame of the smiling Pope. I haven’t watched the Holy Thursday Mass yet (actually, I’m not even sure it’s being aired?!?), but I can imagine how powerful it must be to watch him do it. Heck, I was moved when I watched my priest washed the feet of the parishioners last night! Looking forward to the Way of the Cross… I’ve always wanted to be in Rome for Easter so I can witness that particular ceremony. Have a wonderful Easter to you and yours, Trisha!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/03/29

      Thank you Pauline. I am supposed to be going to cover the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum tonight. It is such a beautiful ceremony, it is one of my favorites, and I always offer to cover, but today I also have to cover the political consultations in Italy and I am stuck in the office waiting for the Italian President to announce what he has decided. The political situation in Italy is just crazy–they can’t decide on a government or a Prime Minister. Hopefully they will hurry up so I can get over to the Colosseum– my cameraman has already gone on over there on his own and I don’t want to miss it.

      Reply
  6. Avatar
    Lisa | Renovating Italy
    2013/03/29

    I like him already x

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/03/30

      So do I!

      Reply
  7. Avatar
    Nancy Rockwell
    2013/03/29

    Bravo, Trisha! I’m in NYC and writing on my phone, so few words now and more later. But I think he is making all these new moves to try to take back authority, which the X Pope lost hold of, and Francis knows will ce to him from the people and hopes he can use to take on the Curia. But when will he move against the Curia? And to do what? I think soon, and there will be howling. I think he is very cagey. And that the butler is not the only person in the Papal staff he cannot trust, and he may trust the staff at the Santa Marta more, and may be able to move them into new positions around him.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/03/30

      Yes, we are all waiting and wondering what changes he will be making in the Vatican Curia. I imagine he will try to do it quietly without getting too much media attention.

      Reply
  8. Avatar
    sally smith
    2013/03/29

    “The People’s Pope,” for sure! Buona Pasqua a te e famiglia!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/03/30

      Ciao Sally – Buona Pasqua pure a te e tua famiglia!

      Reply
  9. Avatar
    Penny Kirk
    2013/03/30

    What a breath of fresh air…I hope he keeps it up!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/03/30

      It has been fun to cover too!

      Reply
  10. Avatar
    Rachel V. Polestico
    2013/04/01

    Hi Trisha, I am one of Barbara’s students (1993) at Clark U. and later we worked together (with Elvina Mutua, Andrea Esser, Olivia ) to publish a book entitled Socio-Economic and Gender Analysis. She used to invite me for Thanksgiving Dinner in your house in Boston and talk about among other things religion. She knows that I am a Catholic and that I work for a Jesuit institution – Xavier University here in the Philippines. She told me that one of her daughters work for AP and that she covers the whereabouts in the Vatican and gets to ride in the same plane as the Pope! Barbara linked me to your Mozzarella Mamma blog. I am very happy to read your blog about the latest events leading to the election of Pope Francis and especially this particular coverage Francesco Frenzy. I watch CNN and BBC coverage and also of our local TV broadcast but I must say that I enjoyed your blog more because of the many side stories that you include in your account.

    I also like your interest on Cardinal Tagle because you once lived here in the Philippines. Cardinal Tagle was the graduation speaker at the Ateneo de Manila University recently where he described what it was like to be in the Conclave and to be close to the new Pope. He said that he was almost irritated with the media coverage on him until one day when one of the Filipinos who work in Rome as a domestic helper told him that because Cardinal Tagle was often on TV and the newspapers, his boss became kinder and nicer to him. Cardinal Tagle was so touched with that comment that he still cries whenever he mentions the story. It is too bad you did not get to interview him but I guess he will be often in Rome and hope that you will still be able to talk to him. He would be interested to know that you once lived (and interviewed “rebels”) in the Philippines.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/04/02

      Rachel — thank you so much for your comment. I am so honored that you like my blog. Yes, I think Cardinal Tagle must be a very special person and I would love to have the opportunity to interview him. I will try again the next time he is in Rome. I have such fond memories of the year I spent in the Philippines. I was a young, somewhat naive, journalist and I traveled all over the country — Negros, Mindinao etc – and wherever I went, people always opened up their homes to me generously sharing the time, their food, and their knowledge. I will always hold a special place in my heart for the Philippines. I am sure Cardinal Tagle would have made a wonderful Pope, and who knows, he is still young… For the moment though, I am thrilled with the choice of Cardinal Bergoglio. I was not expecting him to be chosen, but I must say it has been a pleasure to cover him so far. Thanks again for writing and if you are ever in Rome, let me know. Ciao, Trisha

      Reply
  11. Avatar
    Rebecca Butler
    2013/04/16

    Hi Trisha, I am sure you have been thinking about Boston all day. I hope your family and friends are safe tonight. I was at the marathon today but I am ok. Leaving the city was surreal. I am so devastated by the bombings today. It was one of those beautiful spring days, sunny, not too hot or cold, the energy in the crowd was so positive and effulgent, the runners were so strong and inspired so much admiration. I had small children with me. It is a nightmare – a nightmare happening all over the world – all of these bombings are tragic but it is affecting me particularly deeply tonight. I feel so much for the loved ones dealing with loss tonight and those who are terribly hurt.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/04/17

      Oh Rebecca, I am so glad you are safe and the children that were with you too. It is so sad and tragic and yes, I have been thinking of it constantly. My family is all fine thank goodness, but I grieve for those who lost loved ones. Why anyone would attack an event like the Boston Marathon is beyond me. Growing up I went to cheer for the runners every year on heartbreak hill and always thought I would run it someday. I never did, but it is a great event and almost always on a beautiful, sunny, spring day– what a tragedy to have someone ruin it with bombs causing bloodshed and death

      Reply
  12. Avatar
    Mzungu Mjinga
    2013/04/17

    I am sure the Pontiff must be edified by your approval of his foot-washing!
    I remain, however, only semi-convinced – and still a Calvinist.

    Your blog looks so slick – dang. I wish mine looked half as good – minus the popery….

    Mambo Bado ! Uhuru na Kazi!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/04/18

      Thank you for your comment Mzungu Mjinga. We are all watching and waiting to see how the new Pope moves on a lot of different issues. Time will tell, but you are right, I definitely approved of the foot-washing.
      Can you translate your last comment in Swahili for me? I checked it out on google translator, but I am not sure that did it justice. Thanks, Trisha

      Reply

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