Transparent Papacy

The Holy Father continues to amaze with the direct and transparent style with which he is conducting his Petrine ministry. While retaining a dynamic public presence through his remarkably warm and engaging charism for connecting with so many different people, he is – almost systematically – disengaging the papacy from much of its conventional protocol.

Eschewing residence in the Apostolic Palace from the start for the humbler quarters of the Santa Marta hotel for visiting clergy and laypersons, he has also elected to remain in the city for the summer instead of heading to the hills at Castel Gandolfo. Wryly, at a recent meeting in Rome, he told school children that he was doing this for “psychiatric reasons,” explaining that “I need to live among people.”

In so doing, he is witnessing to the world that the true treasure of the Church – the Body of Christ on Earth – lies not in its power, prestige or possessions but in every person whom it embraces in love.

Despite efforts in the media to seize on the contrasts in his lifestyle with that of previous pontiffs, the Holy Father continues to stress continuity, notably collaborating with his immediate predecessor on his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei. It is worth mentioning that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is living in a comparably modest, if somewhat quieter, abode at a former convent on the other side of the Vatican. In all candor, it should also be noted that it has been some 500 years since any pope actually lived in the opulence of the Borgia apartments, long relegated to Vatican Museum tours.

More remarkable yet has been the willingness of Pope Francis to speak publically beyond or in lieu of his prepared remarks. He celebrates Mass in public virtually every day, typically ad libbing and interjecting humorous and folksy comments, as Blessed John Paul II was also known to have done.

Following an overwhelmingly moving and joyous celebration of World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in July, which at one point drew masses to Copacabana beach now estimated to have reached 3.7 million, Pope Francis took the time for an interview on his return flight at which he responded candidly to a number of hot button issues. All of his remarks reflected his characteristic humility, charity and conciliatory outreach towards people within and outside Church circles who, for different reasons, may have become controversial or marginalized.

Earlier this week, His Holiness extended a gesture of friendship and prayer in a letter toward the Muslim communities throughout the world commemorating the end of Ramadan. Catholics and Muslims must respect “the religion of the other, its teachings, its symbols, its values,” he wrote. “Particular respect is due to religious leaders and to places of worship. How painful are attacks on one or other of these!”

In all that he is doing, Pope Francis invites the Church he leads to fix its gaze outward towards a world in need of hope and healing. Without accommodation to any interests that might water down the full Gospel message, the purity and truth of which is inherently attractive, Pope Francis is demonstrating how living the Word without fear or compromise is exactly the remedy that the contemporary world needs. Our wish is that the example he is setting becomes the model for every disciple who seeks to set the Earth on fire with the liberating message of universal salvation already in our midst.

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