Mass points to Pope's new priorities

  • 19 March 2013
  • From the section Europe
Pope Francis greets the faithful during his Inauguration Mass in St Peter's Square in Vatican City, Vatican, on Tuesday
Image caption Man of the people? The Pope's inauguration Mass was a shorter, simpler affair than many before, and he appealed to "human" values

From the moment he walked out onto the balcony on St Peter's Basilica and stood calmly surveying the crowd, Pope Francis' body language has suggested a change of style.

Tuesday's shorter, simpler, inaugural Mass reinforced the impression of a Pope of humility and simplicity.

Pope Francis' homily - direct and comprehensible - suggested that those qualities would shape his pontificate too.

He acknowledged that his election as Pope placed him in a position of power.

But he said for that power to be valid, or "authentic", it must be exercised in self-sacrificing service to others.

That service, he told the thousands of clergy among the throng in St Peter's Square, had to be directed especially to those most in need - "the poorest, the weakest, the least important".

It was the clearest sign yet that the preoccupation with social justice shown by Cardinal Bergoglio in Buenos Aires will be transferred onto the world stage by Pope Francis in Rome.

Structural reform?

But the homily contained another passage potentially even more revealing about how Pope Francis might intend the Church to deal with changing societies in the future.

Pope Francis was talking about the role of St Joseph - the husband of Mary - as protector of the holy family.

He was able to carry out that role, said the Pope, not only because he heard the word of God, but because he responded to it "realistically".

"He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions", said Pope Francis.

Many Roman Catholics will want that sentiment to be translated into a reform of the Church's structures to give bishops more power to affect its policy.

Although Pope John Paul II made some changes to the Vatican's civil service, or Curia, the last major reorganisation was under Pope Paul VI during the 1960s.

Responding to the priorities of the Second Vatican Council, the reforms gave bishops from around the world the chance to participate in governing the Vatican, introduced limited five-year terms, and specified regular inter-departmental consultation.

Gradually the devolving effect of those reforms has been eroded and the Curia has re-centralised power in the Church.

Pope Francis' thinking will become more apparent in the next few weeks as he makes key appointments - especially that of secretary of state, in effect his deputy.

But it is already clear that Francis will make the environment a priority.

'Simply human'

Building on his theme of protecting the good in the world, the Pope invoked his namesake Francis of Assisi as he called for respect for "each of God's creatures and... the environment in which we live".

He said the duty belonged not just to Christians but was "simply human, involving everyone".

Perhaps the most remarkable message from Pope Francis' inauguration was not contained in the homily at all, but in the participation of another prelate.

Included in the group that prayed with Pope Francis at the crypt of St Peter was the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew.

It was the first time since the split between the Eastern and Western churches in 1054 that the leader of the Eastern Orthodox churches has attended a papal inauguration.

It was a strong signal of friendship from the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

Different denominations, and indeed different religions, share many of the same challenges - scepticism and indifference for example - in the increasingly secular Western world.

The people of Pope Francis' Rome diocese - and far beyond it - have warmed to what they have seen of his personality.

They will now be waiting to see humility and simplicity matched by action in reforming the Church.