For Christians around the world, Holy Week observances begin in earnest today, as the Last Supper is commemorated in the run-up to Easter. For many Christian communities, including the Catholic Church, churches celebrate Maundy Thursday (also called Holy Thursday) by washing the feet of other congregants in evening celebrations, just as the New Testament depicts Jesus doing for his disciples before his arrest later that night. Traditionally, the Catholic pontiff will wash the feet of twelve retired priests in St. Peter’s Basilica, but as we are discovering, Pope Francis is anything but a traditional pontiff. CNN’s Ben Wedeman reports on Francis’ decision to extend his pastoral care to prisoners on Maundy Thursday:
Wedeman mentions that Francis has decided not to live in the normal papal apartments, which have been exclusive for pontifical use since 1906. Instead, he’s staying at the Domus Sancta Marthae, the hotel on Vatican grounds where the cardinals stayed during the conclave, although he uses the apartments for his duties. However, as the Vatican press office says, don’t read too much into that decision:
Pope Francis has decided not to move into the papal apartment used by Benedict XVI and others before him, preferring instead to stay in a simple suite at a Vatican hotel, a Vatican spokesman said.
The papal apartment on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace is ready for the new pontiff to move into, the Rev. Federico Lombardi told CNN on Tuesday.
However, he has decided to stay at the Casa Santa Marta, the residence where he’s been staying since the papal election two weeks ago, for the time being, Lombardi said.
He’s given no date for when he might move out of the two-room suite, Lombardi added.
The Anchoress added a few thoughts about the reaction to Francis’ decision on living arrangements:
The pope is still the pope, whether he uses the papal apartments or not; whether he calls himself the Bishop of Rome or not. Peter is still Peter whether he is on the throne or walking amongst those who need the healing grace of his shadow.
Benedict saw a Curia — and a church — in serious trouble; like a boxer pinned too long in a corner by a world bent on destruction, he understood that if the church was going to survive she needed to get back into the corner for some refreshment and restoration, and then come out swinging. He rang the bell and gave the church that chance.
Practically from the moment he appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s, gazing with remarkable placidity upon the throng before him, it has been clear that this pope is a spiritual brawler — to the world, a quiet menace, because a spiritual brawler will smile and offer you nothing but ferocious tenderness, the kind that will impact, repeatedly, on the solar plexus, until we are breathless and ready for mercy. The world needs precisely this sort of pummeling — anything besides tenderness, and its guard would be forever up. As I have said before, everyone in turn, and in varying measures, is going to find something to love about Francis and something to be bugged by; we’re all going to be challenged out of our comfort zones.
Stop worrying, and watch. It’s going to be fascinating. Nothing Francis is doing is in any way going to change who and what Peter is; in fact, he is going to help clarify to the world exactly who Peter is — the man around whom the Office was created, and who has been, perhaps, too encumbered by some of its walls. Before he ever had a mitre or a staff, he walked among the crowds and took counsel with other apostles. This particular iteration of Peter may actually be the one under whom the unifying work of Benedict may actually blossom into something solid and lasting. In that case, there is a good chance Peter will want to create a council that includes reps from every continent and from Orthodoxy. Be ready for that.
But he will still be Peter; still the Vicar of Christ and the keeper of the Keys.
Let me put it in simpler terms. Pope Francis is taking himself out of the comfort zone … and challenging us to get out of ours, as well. That’s what a good pastor does with his congregation, and Pope Francis is focused on setting a pastoral example, for Catholics and everyone else, too.