The firsts continue, to be sure. He will be the first pope in hundreds of years to have lunch with his predecessor. The patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church was in attendance at the papal inauguration for the first time since 1054’s Great Schism. The Chief Rabbi of Rome was present as well as representatives from so many other religions.
His symbols of power are simpler. The Fisherman’s Ring is gold-plated and not the usual solid gold. His inauguration was a full one hour shorter than that of Benedict XVI. This will be a more modest pope. He said on Saturday, “Ah, how I would like a Church that is poor… of the poor, for the poor.”
His address called for compassion for the poor and oppressed; to stand for the outcast and ignored like St. Francis Xavier. More than that, he demonstrated a concern for the outcast by having Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe in attendance.
Pope Francis is open-armed to the outcasts who may even be guilty of great evil. After all, how better to change a darkened heart than to draw it close in a loving embrace? And forgiveness does not imply guiltlessness.
In a moving blessing to those present he said: “Since many of you are not members of the Catholic Church, and others are not believers, I cordially give this blessing silently, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each, but in the knowledge that each of you is a child of God. May God bless you!”
He is sensitive to the beliefs or non-beliefs of others.
He called for environmental care and for civil justice and especially for mercy among the peoples of the earth. Perhaps the most powerful statement was “We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness.”
On the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeldt are rewriting the events that have dominated the past decade, Pope Francis is inaugurated with calls for mercy and tenderness.
Tenderness. Now, there is an idea whose time surely has come.
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