Change of style on first day in office for Pope Francis

‘We’re going to have to get used to a new way of doing things,’ says spokesman

Pope Francis waves from the steps of the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica in Rome yesterday, as he went for a half-hour personal moment of prayer. Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi

Pope Francis waves from the steps of the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica in Rome yesterday, as he went for a half-hour personal moment of prayer. Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi


As you might expect, the mood in the Domus Santa Marta, the Vatican lodgings where all the cardinals stay during a conclave, was a festive one on Tuesday night.

The cardinals had met, talked and elected a new pope, all within the space of little more than 24 hours.

At the end of their meal, the new boss, Pope Francis, lately Argentine cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, stood up to address a few words to his fellow cardinals, saying: “May the Good Lord forgive you for what you have done”.

That things are about to change around here became all too apparent yesterday on the first day of the pontificate of Pope Francis. Maintaining his promise to offer up prayers to the Madonna, he was up early for a half-hour personal moment of prayer at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

That the pope might offer up prayers to the Madonna is hardly anything new. What is new is that he should chose to travel across town from the Vatican in just one police car, without all the normal security retinue.

That was in keeping with his decision on Tuesday night after his election to travel back down to Santa Marta not in his own papal limousine but rather on the mini-bus with the other cardinals.

Different style
When he met with the media yesterday, senior Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi admitted this pontificate is clearly going to have a very different style, saying: “We’re going to have to get used to a new way of doing things.”

When it comes to security, explained the spokesman, it is the pope and not his advisers who call the shots. If he wants to travel with a limited number of cars, so be it. If he wants to stop and get out of the car, then that too is okay.

After his prayer, Pope Francis then greeted all the priests and personnel at Santa Maria Maggiore, including US cardinal Bernard Law, a former arch-priest in the basilica. From there he moved on to his digs in the Casa del Clero on Via Della Scrofa where he had stayed before the conclave. He collected his bags and then went downstairs to pay his bill. This was, reported Fr Lombardi, “in order to set a good example”.

A quiet first day on the job finished with a special Mass for his fellow cardinals in the Sistine Chapel last night where the pope, speaking in his excellent Italian, said: “I would like us all, after these days of grace, to have the courage to walk in the presence of the Lord, to carry the Lord’s cross, to build the church on the Lord’s blood spilled on the cross and to bear witness to the one glory, the crucified Lord. That way the church will continue on its path.”

Meanwhile, commentators yesterday struggled to come to terms with the tsunami that has hit the church. Most analysts see this as a truly historic conclave and not just for all the obvious reasons – first non-European for nearly 1,300 years; first Latin American ever; first Jesuit and so on. Many also see this election as a resounding defeat for that all powerful section of the Roman Curia which has its reference point in current secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. A telling little tale inth e Il Fatto Quotidiano, newspaper claimed that, by mistake, some genius at the Italian Bishops Conference sent off a telegram of congratulations yesterday afternoon to Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Archbishop of Milan, complimenting him on his election as pope.

Several commentators argue that this unexpected result owes much to the prolonged negative international publicity generated by the “Vatileaks” affair, which highlighted curia cynicism and corruption.

Many believe that Pope Francis owes his election to a determined campaign by “foreigners” in which the US cardinals led by Tim Dolan of New York along with the Archbishop of Paris, Jean Vingts Trois, the Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn and a number of developing world cardinals led the way.

Argentine enthusiasm
Inevitably, yesterday was also a first day marked by understandable Argentine enthusiasm with Argentine daily Olè placing the new pope in the highest possible hall of (football) fame, headlining “Maradona, Messi and now Bergoglio” .

However, the first serious problem also emerged with accusations about Pope Francis’ role during Argentina ’s military dictatorship in the 1970s.