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.
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.”
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.”
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.