Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis officially began his Petrine Ministry today in front of Saint Peter's Tomb and in St Peter's Square, the latter teeming with people from around the world. As his usual self, the reserved yet affable man who has endeared himself to everyone, he wore simple vestments to lead a simpler liturgy, a brotherly figure for the sick and for the children, always seeking a direct contact with people.
Many are quick to notice his "pastoral" approach to the Petrine Ministry, sometimes comparing it with that of Benedict XVI. I think it is a bit silly to compare and contrast personal traits as if they represented theological differences, as if, as some media organisations have suggested, the Church has "turned the page" with Pope Francis. This is not the case with the Argentine pope who on the day of his election turned his first thought to his "venerated predecessor".
If one rereads the address Benedict XVI delivered in his inaugural Mass and compare it to Francis's, we can see similarities. Both feel unworthy of such a huge responsibility. Both have asked the faithful to pray for them. Both view Christ as central. Both see power as service. Indeed, both are also moved by the same concern for the environment, the same idea of stewardship of oneself and creation, which the German pope called the inner and out deserts that Christians must heal.
Benedict spoke about ecumenism (consequence of Peter's broken net). Francis did not have to because he was able to exchange the sign of peace with Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, and Karekin II, the Armenian patriarch.
After stalling for years, the theological dialogue with Orthodox Churches was restarted under Benedict XVI. It was during his pontificate that the sense of unity between East and West flourished again, inspired by the pre-schism Church.
Of course, some changes have been made. Renewal is a constant feature of Church traditions, resting solidly on the continuity of truth.
Out of today's symbolism, three major elements can be clearly identified:
This pope will certainly streamline the Vatican and Church bureaucracy but he will do so in order to emphasise the Church's vocation: mission.
We already saw this today when, after the inaugural Mass, he greeted political dignitaries. Throwing aside the protocol, the pope hugged them, said hello to them, kissed anyone who came to greet him. He blessed the rosary beads Chile's president took out of his pocket as well as the family photo held up by a Caribbean dignitary
Unconcerned about possible "diplomatic consequences" with Beijing, he spoke at length with Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou. Unfazed by political considerations, he also spoke in a cordial manner with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and Shia religious scholar.