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César Izquierdo, Associate Dean of the School of Theology of the University of Navarra

Pope Francis: appearing as you are

Fri, 15 Mar 2013 12:32:00 +0000 Published in La Razón

How does someone prepare to speak briefly before an audience of hundreds of millions of people? I suppose that image consultants would need weeks and abundant means to achieve the perfect approach , the right words, the right gestures, the right intonation... But if for that intervention you only have a few minutes in which, in addition, diverse and intense experiences demand your attention, there is no other possible preparation than to simply appear as you are. This is exactly what we saw yesterday when the new Pope, Francis, appeared on the balcony of the Loggia of Blessings in St. Peter's Basilica.

It was possible to notice particular details such as the fact that he simply wore the white cassock, without the red muceta that the Roman Pontiffs use in various acts. It was also inevitable to observe the simplicity of the pectoral cross that hung from his neck. These details and others surely had an intentionality coherent with Cardinal Bergoglio's lifestyle, although perhaps it cannot be excluded that some of them simply respond to the need to improvise too many things in a short time (who does not remember the black sleeves of the sweater that Benedict XVI wore under the cassock, in the same place and with the same motif in 2005?). But what leaves no doubt about the quality of the person in front of us are his face, his hands and his words.

Pope Francis appeared on the balcony with a serene and joyful face, at first silent, with restrained gestures as if revealing a certain shyness, a voluntary lack of mastery of the scene of which he was the center. His hands insinuated an initial blessing and then remained still. And when he was about to begin his first message, his right hand spontaneously grabbed the microphone (as we priests are so used to doing in our parishes and temples). And then he began to speak.

Now I recognize that, without realizing it, I was waiting for his first words to formulate a first judgment on the new Pope. Would they be brilliant, witty, vibrant, audacious words that would deserve to be quoted verbatim in the headlines and in next Sunday's homilies? As we reread today what we heard yesterday, we realize that Pope Francis yesterday said few of his own words and, instead, invited us to put on our lips and in our hearts the just, timely and necessary word of prayer: "I would like to pray for our Pope Emeritus..." "Let us always pray for each other: for one another. Let us pray for the whole world, so that there may be a great fraternity", "I ask you to pray for the Lord to bless me: the prayer of the people, asking for the Blessing for their Bishop. Let us pray in silence this prayer of yours for me..... Pray for me and see you soon". With the simplicity of these words, he made one thing clear: that the Church has her strength outside herself, in the Lord who gathers her together and unites her in his Body. It is as if he were responding a posteriori to everything that some and others of us have said in recent weeks about the qualities and challenges of the new Pope: he had to be young, he had to know the Curia, he had to have published books... And along comes Pope Francis who is not young, who does not know the Curia and who, as far as I know, has not published a theological work of his own and tells us: "I ask you to pray that the Lord will bless me..." And he has bowed down as a sign of his docility before the fruit of that prayer so that the light and love of God may guide him.

It was also significant that, in his words, the Pope referred to himself above all as Bishop of Rome, Rome understood as a diocesan community, Rome as the Church "which presides in charity over all the Churches," according to the expression of St. Ignatius of Antioch in the second century. It is too early to say whether these words contain a concrete way of understanding the Petrine ministry. It seems clear, however, that the new Pope announces that he will follow the way of proceeding inaugurated and carried out with great determination by John Paul II - and continued to varying degrees by Benedict XVI - of exercising the functions of Bishop of the particular Church that is Rome. And for Rome - and certainly for the whole world - he has named the word that expresses a need for the Church today more than ever: evangelization.

He then told us that today he would go to visit the Madonna, as he had done in Santa Maria Maggiore, so that she would prepare a safe way for him on his journey as Pastor of the universal Church. result The gesture, in itself full of meaning, was especially meaningful to me when I heard today on the 3 p.m. news on Antena 3 that the new Pope is very devoted to the image of the Virgin Mary "Knotenlösering"(Unbinding). It is a painting, from 1700, by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner, which is in the Church of St Peter am Perlach, in Ausburg, and of which there are copies in several places in South America, Buenos Aires among them. It represents the Virgin Mary untying the knots in a long ribbon with her hands. Undoubtedly, there will be no lack of knots to untie for Pope Francis in his ministry.

 The Pope's final gesture was to bless the people of Rome and all peoples. Now his arms seemed to have gained in freedom: he raised them to trace the sign of the Cross and in doing so he pointed to heaven, to earth, to the rising and setting sun and, above all, to the minds and hearts of Christians and of all people of good will.