Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
It’s been only five months since his election, but Pope Francis is already leaving his mark on both the Vatican and the world, inspiring many to eschew the unnecessary frills of life in order to take better care of the poorest among us.
Not even the secular news is immune to the allure of the Pope whose heart is full of the spirit of Francis of Assisi. In a recent article, the New York Post featured a photo of the pope arriving at Castle Gandolfo in a humble Ford Focus rather than the usual custom-made Mercedes limos of his predecessors.
“The man-of-the-people pontiff smiled from a lowered window as the no-frills compact car — with a starting sticker price of about $16,000 — rolled up for the informal gathering at Castel Gandolfo, a hill town just outside of Rome,” the Post reported.
The paper made it a point to say that the pope was merely practicing what he preaches, and went on to quote his recent admonition to religious to stop driving fancy cars.
“It hurts me when I see a priest or nun with the latest-model car,” Pope Francis said during a recent lecture to seminarians. “You can’t do this. A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but, please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world.”
In addition to living at St. Martha’s guest house in Rome rather than in the plush papal digs, he has also decided not to take the traditional month-long vacation at Castle Gandolfo, the Vatican’s luxurious summer palace. Instead, he will remain at work in Rome.
His powerful example is hitting home with many, such as the Colombian priest who decided to sell the $63,000 Mercedes convertible his brothers gave him as a gift. At about the same time, the bishops of the northern Italian region of Lombardy met to discuss how they can better rise to the challenges of Francis’ new style.
For a pope who rises at 4:45 a.m. and delivers a homily at morning Mass that is heard around the world within two hours, he lives as low-key as he speaks. The first few hours of his day are dedicated to prayer and meditation on the daily Mass readings. He can often be found sitting in the back of the chapel in prayer before Mass begins. Afterward, he personally greets each person who attended the Mass, hugging them one-by-one.
As LaStampa reports, this is in keeping with his habit from Buenos Aires where he was known to spend the whole night listening to confessions – without wearing his Cardinal’s insignia.
It’s also very much the result of the way he was raised. Francis frequently quotes his grandmother Rosa Margherita Vassallo in many of his homilies, who was known to counsel him about not becoming too attached to money because “burial shrouds don’t have pockets”.
This explains a lot about our new pope, and give us much to be grateful for as he leads our Church into the next millennium. During discussions with Apostolic Nuncios who are in charge of selecting candidates to be ordained as bishops, Pope Francis gave advice that should be reassuring to everyone who worries about the future of the Church.
He told the Nuncios to “to choose pastors who are close to their people, fathers and brothers, who are meek, patient and merciful,” who “love interior poverty” and who live a simple lifestyle. He cautioned them not to select men who have “the mentality of a prince” and to steer clear of those who are seeking a career in the Church rather than those who truly want to serve Christ and His flock.
For those who are concerned that the papacy may somehow change him, it does not appear to be happening. As he often says: “I am ok, I have not lost my inner peace, I have not lost any sleep over a surprising event like the one which happened to me. And I consider this a gift from God.”
A gift that we are also receiving every day of his blessed pontificate.
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