by Thomas Reese, S.J., NCR
In only two years, Pope Francis has changed the face of Catholicism by radically reimagining how it presents itself to the world. From the moment he stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter’s, he has presented a different style of being pope and a new set of priorities for the church.
The change in style was what first caught people’s attention. He rejected the usual papal finery of silks and firs and presented himself to the people of Rome in a simple white cassock. A simple greeting of “Good evening” were his first words, and before he blessed the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, he bowed his head and asked them to pray over him.
This was quickly followed by his decisions not to live in the papal apartments but in Casa Santa Marta; to celebrate his first Mass as pope in St. Ann’s, the small parish church of Vatican City; and to celebrate Holy Thursday in a prison for young male and female offenders whose feet he washed.
These early gestures of the pope garnered him worldwide attention, but more importantly, they were symbolic gestures that communicated his vision for the church. He realizes that the Gospel is preached not just in words, but in actions. As St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel always, use words when necessary.”
The pope’s early actions were a direct assault on clericalism in the church by modeling what it means to be a good bishop, a good priest, a good Christian….