We know of his habit for taking the bus to work when he was cardinal in Argentina. We know that he had washed the feet of AIDS patients in Buenos Aires. We know that he preferred quiet diplomacy over blustering demonstration.
Now in his first days as Pope Francis I he has taken a name previously unused by the popes. He has addressed his colleagues from the pulpit instead of the papal throne. He has dined informally with them and has joked with them about God forgiving them for what they have done in electing him. He has stumbled ascending the throne and has smiled about it. He has asked the faithful by mouth and by Tweet to pray for him.
Today, Sunday March 17, 2013, Pope Francis has broken with tradition yet again. In Day Five of his papacy in his first Sunday address from the Vatican window, he spoke to the crowd without a written speech but from the heart. He spoke only in Italian.
There were 150,000 people in St. Peter’s Square and he greeted them with the simple buon giorno (good morning). He spoke of the forgiveness and mercy of God. His homily had said that we are much harder on ourselves and on our fellow human beings than God ever is toward us.
After Mass at St. Anne’s Church, he stepped toward the huge crowd and greeted them individually. One man in the crowd actually was patting the pope on the back. It has been a long time since any pope was so at ease with the crowds.
It may be simply irony that both Pope and Patriarch have taken previously unused names but it does invite wonder. What is interesting is that when Pope Francis—then Archbishop Bergoglio of Buenos Aires—was in Argentina, he served as Ordinary for the Eastern Rite Church who had no Ordinary of their own there. Pope Francis has a long history of reaching out to the Eastern Church.
Even the Russian Orthodox Church, long resentful of Rome, has opened the door to a future meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kiril of Moscow.
Most intriguing of all, perhaps, is the invitation sent to Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni. This may not be a surprise considering the close relationship that he maintained with the Jewish community in Argentina. Even the conservatism of Pope Francis seems no trouble to Rabbi David Rosen who calls it “the sweetest of ironies” that many times the Church’s conservatives have the best disposition toward Judaism.
We are witnessing something exciting and every one of us—Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs, Agnostics and Atheists—should take it all in and hope for the best for Pope Francis I.
If you are a praying person, do as his Tweet requests.
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