Why Pope Francis inspires us
Opinion: He has washed his socks and knows the face of poverty
‘Pope Francis does not want to be admired. This “son of the Church” wants people to look again at the figure who inspires him, and take seriously the challenge of following that lead.’ Pope Francis Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images
When Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio stepped on to the balcony overlooking St Peter’s Square a year ago and stood stiffly to attention for what seemed an age, my heart sank. How was he going to cope with his new role?
When he greeted everyone with a simple “good evening”, and asked them to pray for and bless him, my shoulders came down about three inches. This was new. This was different. This was very, very good. He had just stepped in the shoes of the fisherman, Peter, and now held an enormous responsibility to protect that heritage, and to hand it on. At that moment, he chose to emphasise collegiality by calling himself the Bishop of Rome.
His commitment to collegiality was clear, too, in his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium , from the number of times he cited regional or national bishops’ conferences – the Latin American bishops more than 14 times, the US and French bishops twice, but also references to documents written by the bishops’ conferences of India, Brazil, the Philippines, the Congo and the European Bishops’ Conference.
This is unprecedented in any papal exhortation. In other words, he is reflecting on and learning from what his fellow bishops have written, rather than assuming that all knowledge flows outward from the centre.
Francis says it explicitly, too, in Evangelii Gaudium , talking about a “sound decentralisation”. Nine out of the 16 new cardinals he appointed are from the global south and Asia; including some of the poorest countries such as Haiti and Burkina Faso, while five are from Latin America.
Again, too, his so-called C8, his small kitchen cabinet of cardinals, who range from conservative to more liberal, includes men from across the world.
One of the most interesting appointments has been that of Cardinal George Pell, as prefect of the new Secretariat for the Economy. Few people who know of this tough-minded Australian tend to feel neutral about him – they either love him for his trenchant espousal of orthodoxy or dislike him for the same reason. But no one doubts his ferocious honesty and his ability to get a job done.
Robert Mickens, writing in the Tablet , describes this new secretariat as “the biggest structural change to the Roman Curia in nearly half a century. Francis has given the new ministry ‘oversight for the administrative and financial structures and activities’ in all sectors of the Vatican and the Holy See.”
Pope Francis had already instituted substantial reform of the so-called Vatican Bank, a source of continuing scandal for many faithful Catholics.