Francis Wandering Fire

by Juan L. Mercado

“It’s long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important,” detective Sherlock Homes said. And it’s little things that signal the direction where the new Pope Francis could take his troubled church in the years ahead.

Take those traditional ermine-lined cloaks. Popes wear on them on first addressing people, summoned by white smoke to Pizza di San Pietro. Former Argentenian cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as the new Pope Francis, brushed it aside. Instead, he stepped forward in a simple white cassock. Minutes earlier, he gently told dignitaries, who clustered to greet him outside the Room of Tears: “Let us not keep the people waiting.”

“He stopped to pay his hotel bill a day after becoming pope”, New York Times wrote. “He wore simple black shoes and an ordinary wristwatch with a thick black band to his first Mass as pontiff. He rode in a minivan to dinner with the cardinals who elected him, affectionately telling them, “May God forgive you for what you’ve done.”

“In an ancient institution, where style often translates into substance, Francis, in his first 24 hours as pope, dramatically shifted the tone of the papacy to one of radical humility” —- as did the 13th century friar from North Umbria known as St Francis of Assisi.

After blessing the faithful, the new pope “left to go back with us to Santa Marta residence”, Cardinal Ricard of France recalls. “The staff moved us aside, because the pontiff descends alone in the elevator,” “ But this pope protested: ‘No no, no, no. We can all get in.’

“And so we all got in with the pope. And at the bottom, he waved aside the waiting papal Mercedes-Benz armor-plated limousine with an SCV1 number “I am coming with you,’ he told the cardinals. “And he got into the bus with us,” as he often did back home.

Pope Francis came for his luggage himself, recalls Fr. Pawel Rytel-Andrianek. He wanted to thank the staff. “He greeted them one by one, the whole staff. ” Rytel-Andrianek said, “The pope knew everyone by name”.

“Never in these 20 years when he came to Rome for work did he ask for a (Vatican) car,” he said. “Even when he went for the conclave with a priest from his diocese, he just walked out to the main road, flagged a taxi for the Sistine Chapel.

Garbled messages from the Italian conference of bishops illustrated the old axiom: “He who enters the conclave as pope emerges as cardinal. Italians sent a copy of their congratulatory message media. It thanked God for the election of Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan. The wire went at 8:23 p.m.

The trouble was 10 minutes earlier, Pope Francis appeared before the crowds in St. Peter’s Square. At 9:08 p.m, the Italian bishops conference sent another statement thanking God for election of the pope. This time, they got the name right.

‘What about “Amalia, the childhood sweetheart whose snub created a pope?, asked the UK Guardian. The “crush” of then 12-year old Jorge revealed she’d been forced to reject his boyhood offer of marriage Both were 12 years old in the Buenos Aires suburb of Flores, when Bergoglio declared: “If I can’t marry you, I’ll become a priest. “I never saw him after that”, Amalia told the Guardian. “In love? At that age, I didn’t know love – I only knew love when I was much older. I was just a little thing.”

He never wanted to be pope, says María Elena Bergoglio, only remaining sibling of the new pontiff. “We joked at the prospect . And he’d say ‘no, please no’,” she told Daily Telegraph. “Now, he faces a lifetime of infinite loneliness”.

Day after his election, Pope Francis slipped into Santa Maria Maggiore basilica through a side entrance. Like many Latinos, Francis is devoted to the Virgin Mary. “Every time he comes to Rome, he visits, Rev. Elio Montenero said.

“Once he’s set up on the Tiber instead of Rio de la Plata, millions hope that Francis will transcend the Latin American church that formed him”, Tom Padgett wrote in Time. Predecessors like John Paul II were spooked by Latin America ’s “liberation theologians.” They prodded the church toward a “preferential option for the poor” but often naively embraced Marxism.

Catholic hardline political power restricts access to family planning services. The region reels from more than 4 million clandestine abortions a year. Maternal mortality rates are 20 times higher than Western Europe ’s.

More than 8,000 Catholics bolt the faith every day. Protestant churches especially Evangelicals, are more attentive than “Catholic parishes to improving their flocks’ earthly situations as well as their heavenly prospects”.

Isn’t that a replica of the Philippines ? In 1940, there were 19 million Filipinos. By 2015, we could be 111.5 million, unless growth rates alter radically. Underground abortions exceed half a million/. Paupers increased despite slow down in birth rates. Swiss bank accounts and 1,080 pairs of schools symbolize “pecuniary decency”.

Francis of Assisi gave away a vast inheritance to serve the poorest . “He catalyzed the ‘Renaissance’, which is older than many European states, George Will wrote in “Memories of a Wandering Fire.” This 43-year old friar sent thousands practicing evangelical poverty and showed faith “is not made more credible by arranging institutional furniture”.

Francis was a “wandering fire,” writer G.K. Chesterton marveled. Pope Francis seems bent to go beyond “rearranging institutional furniture” in a fossilized Curia and relight fires of faith in his church.


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