Dear Blog Readers, While we are all waiting to hear who Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2013 is, I thought I would share with you Mozzarella Mamma’s choice: Pope Francis –Mozzarella Mamma’s Person of the Year 2013
Ok, I admit I am biased because I had a front row seat at his election, I’ve been witness to the dramatic changes he is making at the Vatican and am aware of the widening circle of change happening in the Catholic Church and his efforts to reach beyond. From my position, he appears to be one person who has clearly changed the world in 2013.
Pope Francis has tackled his new job with both humility and determination. He takes the time to kiss nearly every baby in St. Peter’s Square during his weekly audience, and recently greeted 600 handicapped people one-by-one at a Vatican event. But the rest of the time the 76-year-old Pope is in a hurry — a rush to clean up the Vatican and get on with what he believes is the true work of the Catholic Church, reaching out to the poor and the outcast, the weak and vulnerable.
Francis has changed the atmosphere from the Papacy of Benedict XVI where the focus was on the few and the true, Catholic believers who obeyed the social doctrine, to the big tent where sinners, saints and everyone in between is welcome.
He said in his interview this fall with the Jesuits (see my blog Post: The Pope Interview):
“I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up. The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. …”
With the public Francis shows grace and humour, but he can also be tenacious. On the one hand, he humbly greets people with the phrase “pray for me.” On the other hand he criticized the “papal court” as the “leprosy of the papacy.”
The recent Apostolic Exhortation — a 223 page document, laid out his plan for the church in no uncertain terms. First he launched a bitter attack on capitalism suggesting that we “have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such economy kills.” He added, “Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
Powerful stuff. He went on to say, “a globalization of indifference has developed.”
The Pope’s is speaking with actions as well as words. He is easing out the Papal Gentleman, the men in tuxedos with medals on their chests who escort foreign dignitaries in to the Apostolic Palace to meet with the Pope. In June he ordered a five member commission to review of the Vatican bank’s operations. One of the first things that happened with the clean-up was the closing of 900 accounts involved in not-completely-transparent activities.
The Pope has made clear he wants more “collegiality” in the church, more decision-making and consultation outside the Vatican. He has brought in a team of 8 Cardinals, known as the G-8 to oversee Vatican reforms. Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Cardinal of Boston who is one of the G8 Cardinals, announced today the formation of a panel of experts to advise the Pope on questions of sexual abuse.
So what about the church’s social doctrine, is that changing? A lot of progressives have jumped to the conclusion that this Pope was going to make women priests, and support gay marriage. Not so fast. This Pope fully backs the Church’s opposition to abortion, and says he will not change the Church’s position on priestly ordination- no women allowed. But he has moved the church in a new direction on some issues. He famously said, “who am I to judge a gay person?” when asked about homosexuals on the plane enroute to Brazil for World Youth Day. He has left some doubt about whether he will open up the Eucharist for divorced people and married homosexuals — noting in his papal exhortation “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak….the Church is not a tollhouse, it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”
Some changes may be coming. The Vatican has sent a survey to parishes around the globe on questions such as birth control, divorce and gay marriage. This ahead of a meeting on the family planned for October 2014 at the Vatican. We will wait and see.
Finally Pope Francis has broken the Vatican out of the inwardness of the last few years under Pope Benedict XVI when the focus was on corruption, scandal and overall Vatican dysfunction. He has made it clear that the church intends to be a player on the world stage, in a way reminiscent of the early years of Pope John Paul II when the young Polish Pope seemed ready to single-handedly bring down communism.
Pope Francis called for a day of fasting and prayer for Syria on September 7th and ended up with tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for a four hour peace vigil, and people fasting around the globe.
As we head into the Christmas season I am trying to do a story on the Swiss Guard beefing up security at the Vatican to prepare for the influx of faithful for Vatican events. Recently both a Roman taxi driver and an Italian government official mentioned to me concerns about the Pope’s safety. The common feeling was that he might be “making too many waves”, or “ruffling too many feathers.”
Last month an anti-Mafia prosecutor, Nicola Gratteri, from the Calabria region in Southern Italy said that Pope Francis’ reforms of the church were making the ‘Ndrangheta Mafia “nervous,” Gratteri made these comments in an interview with an Italian newspaper in which he said that the Pope was “breaking down the center of economic power in the Vatican.”
To quote my AP colleague Nicole Winfield’s story:
“Those who have been nourished by the power and wealth that is directly derived from the church are nervous and agitated,” Gratteri was quoted as saying. He said he didn’t know if the Mafia could target the pope, “but certainly they’re thinking about it. He could be a threat.”
The Pope’s spokesman basically shrugged off the issue saying they were not worried about it.
It is not only the ‘Ndrangheta that is unhappy about the Pope Francis. There are others among social conservatives within the church, people in the Curia who feel unjustly accused and liturgical traditionalists (this Pope does not like the Latin Mass). So far they have all been keeping a low profile.
I was recently asked what are the visual moments that stick in my mind as a television journalist covering the Pope. One for me was the Pope on Holy Thursday 2013, shortly after he was elected, washing and kissing the tattooed feet of young men and women delinquents at a juvenile detention center in Rome. (See my post: Francesco Frenzy) In 20 years of covering the Vatican, I had never seen anything like that. Another was on his first trip as Pope outside of the Vatican. He went to the island of Lampedusa where tens of thousands of immigrants arrive every year risking their lives to seek a better one. I remember him walking down the pier greeting and chatting with a group of immigrants, mostly from Eritrea, several of them who I had interviewed the day before. These immigrants were not Catholic and had little idea who the Pope was other than an important religious leader dressed in white. And yet the Pope wanted to meet them and talk to them. (see my post: Goosebumps in Lampedusa)
I asked two of my TV colleagues today what were their most memorable visual moments. Pietro De Cristofaro said it was when the newly elected Pope Francis stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. Pietro was standing right below. (See Blog Post: A Bird’s Eye View of the Election of the Pope)
My other colleague, Paolo Santalucia, said it was during the November 6th weekly audience when the Pope kissed a man with a rare genetic disease called Neurofibromatosis.
Perhaps I should let this photo speak for itself.
Pope Francis, MM’s Person of the Year!