03/19/2013, 00.00
VATICAN
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Like Benedict, mission is Pope Francis's focus

by Bernardo Cervellera
During a sober ceremony, wearing simple vestments, the pope shows his closeness to children and the sick. Despite their differences, both Francis and Benedict XVI are profoundly united. Insisting on the need to protect creation and preserve the human habitat, the Pope Francis calls on the powerful to choose between good and evil, without relativism. He calls for less bureaucracy and more witness and mission, talks to Taiwan's president and an Iranian minister.

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:

  1. For Pope Francis, Christians and humanity as whole have a duty; they are "stewards of creation".  Not in terms of mere "environmentalism," but in terms of what we might call "human ecology", the notion that creation is protected when humans protect themselves and the truth, as Pope Francis said today. Human ecology puts man and his spiritual dignity at the centre of all things (see Caritas in Veritate, n. 51).
  2. In his appeal to be stewards of creation, the pope directly addressed "all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment." This is a clear reference to what is good and to "God's design", natural law and the difference between good and evil; all the opposite of relativism and truths decided by majority rule.
  3. Speaking about Saint Joseph, Pope Francis said, "God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit." Hence, the Christian faith and bearing witness are more important than things and structures.

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.

 

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