(VATICAN CITY) Pope Francis gave his first public audience yesterday morning, speaking for twelve minutes to some of the gathered media and a few of their guests. As you will see in the very beginning of the video, the line to get into the hall for the audience stretched forward from roughly my place in it for a couple of hundred feet, and behind me for a few hundred yards by the time we started filing slowly into the media center. (So much for irrelevance.) Not everyone made it in, unfortunately, but I ended up in the front half of the hall, with plenty of opportunity to take photos with a longer-range lens.
The video has Pope Francis’ remarks in full with some my photographs merged into it. His speech was in Italian, but the official Vatican transcript follows (update: video fixed):
At the beginning of my ministry in the See of Peter, I am pleased to meet all of you who have worked here in Rome throughout this intense period which began with the unexpected announcement made by my venerable Predecessor Benedict XVI on 11 February last. To each of you I offer a cordial greeting.
The role of the mass media has expanded immensely in these years, so much so that they are an essential means of informing the world about the events of contemporary history. I would like, then, to thank you in a special way for the professional coverage which you provided during these days – you really worked, didn’t you? – when the eyes of the whole world, and not just those of Catholics, were turned to the Eternal City and particularly to this place which has as its heart the tomb of Saint Peter. Over the past few weeks, you have had to provide information about the Holy See and about the Church, her rituals and traditions, her faith and above all the role of the Pope and his ministry.
I am particularly grateful to those who viewed and presented these events of the Church’s history in a way which was sensitive to the right context in which they need to be read, namely that of faith. Historical events almost always demand a nuanced interpretation which at times can also take into account the dimension of faith. Ecclesial events are certainly no more intricate than political or economic events! But they do have one particular underlying feature: they follow a pattern which does not readily correspond to the “worldly” categories which we are accustomed to use, and so it is not easy to interpret and communicate them to a wider and more varied public. The Church is certainly a human and historical institution with all that that entails, yet her nature is not essentially political but spiritual: the Church is the People of God, the Holy People of God making its way to encounter Jesus Christ. Only from this perspective can a satisfactory account be given of the Church’s life and activity.
Christ is the Church’s Pastor, but his presence in history passes through the freedom of human beings; from their midst one is chosen to serve as his Vicar, the Successor of the Apostle Peter. Yet Christ remains the centre, not the Successor of Peter: Christ, Christ is the centre. Christ is the fundamental point of reference, the heart of the Church. Without him, Peter and the Church would not exist or have reason to exist. As Benedict XVI frequently reminded us, Christ is present in Church and guides her. In everything that has occurred, the principal agent has been, in the final analysis, the Holy Spirit. He prompted the decision of Benedict XVI for the good of the Church; he guided the Cardinals in prayer and in the election.
It is important, dear friends, to take into due account this way of looking at things, this hermeneutic, in order to bring into proper focus what really happened in these days.
All of this leads me to thank you once more for your work in these particularly demanding days, but also to ask you to try to understand more fully the true nature of the Church, as well as her journey in this world, with her virtues and her sins, and to know the spiritual concerns which guide her and are the most genuine way to understand her. Be assured that the Church, for her part, highly esteems your important work. At your disposal you have the means to hear and to give voice to people’s expectations and demands, and to provide for an analysis and interpretation of current events. Your work calls for careful preparation, sensitivity and experience, like so many other professions, but it also demands a particular concern for what is true, good and beautiful. This is something which we have in common, since the Church exists to communicate precisely this: Truth, Goodness and Beauty “in person”. It should be apparent that all of us are called not to communicate ourselves, but this existential triad made up of truth, beauty and goodness.
Some people wanted to know why the Bishop of Rome wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: “Don’t forget the poor!” And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor! Afterwards, people were joking with me. “But you should call yourself Hadrian, because Hadrian VI was the reformer, we need a reform…” And someone else said to me: “No, no: your name should be Clement”. “But why?” “Clement XV: thus you pay back Clement XIV who suppressed the Society of Jesus!” These were jokes. I love all of you very much, I thank you for everything you have done. I pray that your work will always be serene and fruitful, and that you will come to know ever better the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the rich reality of the Church’s life. I commend you to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of Evangelization, and with cordial good wishes for you and your families, each of your families. I cordially impart to all of you my blessing. Thank you.
I told you I was cordially imparting my blessing. Since many of you are not members of the Catholic Church, and others are not believers, I cordially give this blessing silently, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each, but in the knowledge that each of you is a child of God. May God bless you!
As you can hear, Pope Francis has a sense of humor, and at least some of this was clearly off-script. Frs. Federico Lombardi and Thomas Rosica at the Vatican press office had told us earlier in the week that they would probably not provide embargoed copies of remarks before they were given, as Francis’ spontaneity makes it impossible. Those who didn’t understand Italian had to wait to read the speech to see what he said.
I understand enough Italian to have grasped the main thrusts of his speech. It’s clear that this pontificate will focus on the poor, and that his personal example (at least, if not his management) will be to introduce humility and poverty into the Holy See’s approach to the world. Francis himself emphasized in the speech that his choice of name was explicitly from Francis of Assisi and not the Jesuit founder Francis Xavier or Francis de Sales, although the story about how the cardinals joked with him before his decision escaped me during his speech. Francis of Assisi was, like this Francis, a man who eschewed pomp for personal connection to pastoral work. Even Pope Francis’ spontaneity speaks to that impulse.
If the speech was in Italian, why include the audio, which I recorded separately? The words on the page don’t give as clear a sense of Francis as his own voice and images do. As you can see and hear — even without understanding Italian — Francis brings a sense of joy, as other Popes have, but also a sense of personal connection, a humility and a humanity that sometimes has been lost in the trappings of the office. He’s not afraid to tell self-effacing jokes or personal anecdotes, even to a gathering of the media. That has a purpose, which he emphasized in this passage:
Christ is the Church’s Pastor, but his presence in history passes through the freedom of human beings; from their midst one is chosen to serve as his Vicar, the Successor of the Apostle Peter. Yet Christ remains the centre, not the Successor of Peter: Christ, Christ is the centre. Christ is the fundamental point of reference, the heart of the Church. Without him, Peter and the Church would not exist or have reason to exist.
The media also widely reported this passage:
How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!
Don’t expect Francis to divest the Church of its art and other resources, however; in an exhortation to the media, he noted that the Church protects and communications “truth, beauty, and goodness.” What he means is a poverty of approach, an end to the pomp and excess of the Church, and he means to set that example personally from the start. In yesterday’s briefing, the press office noted that he told the nuncio in Argentina that the people there should not come to the installation Mass on Tuesday, as it’s too expensive to travel to Rome, and that the money would be better off being spent on the poor. (Fr. Rosica noted at the time with a hearty laugh, “This is not a prohibition, of course!”)
My personal sense of Pope Francis is that of a humble man perhaps thrown into a high-profile role, but with a very clear sense of himself and of a mission of reform. Most of all, in my very first audience with any pontiff, I get the sense of a man who wants to focus on being the Pastor of the World more than on refining theology. He wants to put into personal action — with prayer at the center — the efforts he sees as needed to evangelize the faith in the same way Francis of Assisi once advised: “Proclaim the Gospel … use words if necessary.”
This should be a very interesting — and different — pontificate. In a very real sense, it has already started to capture the world’s attention, and Francis’ personal touch will confound the skeptical and delight the rest.
Addendum: The Anchoress, with whom I had lunch yesterday along with Christiane Ried of the German wire service EPD, also attended the audience and has more thoughts.