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Habemus Papam – We Have a New Pope Francis – What Does This Mean For the Catholic Worker?

 Not only do we have a new Pope, we have a new, new Pope.

Everything about him is unique. He is the first non-European Pope since the 8th century. He is the first Jesuit Pope

Even more significantly, however – he is the first Pope Francis.

The very first thing the new Pope did was to choose the name Francis. This is brand new. No Pope has ever been named Francis before. He said it is for Francis of Assisi. If he had not done anything else, just claiming the name of Francis would have had a tremendous impact.

With the name Francis comes all of the meaning of a saint who lived the spirit of poverty and the reality of voluntary poverty. He was a man for the poor, but also a man of peace, against war, a man who loved creation and all its creatures.

“How I Would Like a Church Which Is Poor and For the Poor”

In his press conference a few days after his election, to the thousands of reporters gathered in Rome, Pope Francis explained how he chose the name:

“Some people wanted to know why the Bishop of Rome wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes [OFM]: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: “Don’t forget the poor!” And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!”

Word and Deed

The new Pope not only chose the name Francis, which is a message in itself. The world has discovered that he has already been living in the spirit of poverty and simplicity.  Even before the stories emerged of how in Buenos Aires he took the bus instead of a car with a chauffer, how he lived in a simple apartment instead of the bishop’s palace, did his own cooking, and frequently visited the poorest of the poor and washed their feet, his first appearance as Pope gave us some clues.

Pope Francis did not wear the red ermine-trimmed mozetta over his white cassock when we first saw him. He did not wear the jeweled cross which had been offered to him, but preferred to keep the iron cross that he had worn for many years. We are told that instead of sitting on a dais to receive a pledge of obedience from the cardinals, he remained standing at their level. Afterward, instead of riding in a special car back to the place where the cardinals were staying, he joined the others on the bus. He did not wear the new red shoes offered to him, but kept his black shoes that he wore to the conclave (The shoes that were bought by his priest friends for him after seeing the tattered condition of his shoes.)

When he saw the papal apartments he said that three hundred people could live there. For now, at least, he has chosen not to live there. He  sent a message through the Nuncio, the Ambassador of the Holy See to Argentina, to ask people from Argentina not to come to Rome for his inaugural Mass, but rather to give the money to the poor.

The Pope wears a special ring, the fisherman’s ring. We understand that Pope Francis is wearing a simple ring prepared for Paul VI. He is wearing the same pallium that Benedict XVI wore.

Bird-bathers of the World Unite with the New Pope Francis to Protect Creation.

You Have Nothing To Lose Except Your Chains!

Many people have birdbaths in their back yards with a statue of Saint Francis. What does the election of the new Pope Francis mean for these followers of Francis as a symbol of loving the birds and animals? The Pope has reoriented all of that. He stole these symbols back from the popular customs which are often separate from faith when he said one reason he chose this name for his role as Pope of the Catholic Church was that Francis was the man who loved and protected creation – God’s creation.

In various denominations animals are blessed on the Feast of St. Francis, but it would seem that the depth and strength of Francis may escape some of those who participate.

A Latino Pope

The significance of having a Latino Pope cannot be underestimated. Pope Francis, who has very quickly been discovered to have a great sense of humor, said when he was first presented that the Cardinals had to go to the very end of the earth to find a new Bishop of Rome.

The guests of our houses and Latino volunteers at Casa Juan Diego are rejoicing to know that we have a Spanish-speaking Pope.  Hispanic friends have told us his gesture of asking the throng waiting to greet him for their blessing, before he gave them his blessing, resonated from their culture, where people so often ask others to give them their blessing, especially family members.

As one television commentator put it, there is only one country that speaks Italian. There are two and a half countries that speak German. There are a few countries that speak English and French. But Spanish is spoken in many, many countries around the world, not least in the United States. A people who have often felt ignored by the world, by the rich and powerful, have received tremendous affirmation from the Church. In Argentina, according to a report from the Nuncio, people are going to confession who have not been to the sacraments in years.

What This Means for the Catholic Worker

We rejoice with Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in the election of the new Pope Francis.

Not only did we have Pope Benedict XVI praising Dorothy Day publicly in the week before he left for Castel Gandolfo, we now have a new Pope who is featuring many of the same aspects of the great tradition of the Church that inspired the vision of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin.

Several of Peter’s Easy Essays feature St. Francis and Holy Poverty and Dorothy often wrote about him.

Peter and Dorothy taught by their example that the way to rebuild the Church and society is the way of Saint Francis.  Like Francis, Peter and Dorothy made a decision not to start a sect, but to remain in the framework of the Church, modeling a unique way of transforming the Church and world by calling people more deeply to the Gospel.  The bond with the Church allowed Francis and later the Catholic Workers to maintain their radicalism in following the Gospel without losing perspective or seeking self-aggrandizement.  Any critique they made of the Church and the secular world would be seen in their very lives.

The attraction of the CW to the life and methods of Francis was not unrelated to the amazing effect he had on the practices of economics, war and the social structure of his time.  Pragmatists wonder that the methods of Francis could even be considered.  Remember, they might say, this is the real world.  Catholic Workers, however, saw through their study of history that the methods of Francis had profound practical effects.

Dorothy and Peter and the early Catholic Workers read The Little Flowers of St. Francis, a fourteenth-century classic, and G. K. Chesterton’s book, St. Francis of Assisi.  They studied Francis especially in Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Rite Expiatis (known in English as St. Francis, Herald of the Great King), in Johannes Jorgensen’s biography of the saint and in Fr. Cuthbert’s book on St. Francis. (Many of these books are out of print now. For more on Dorothy and Peter and Saint Francis, our book The Catholic WorkerMovement: Intellectual and Spiritual Origins (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 2005) has a chapter on the connection.)

Dorothy wrote about how in the face of materialism and corruption the witness of love in voluntary poverty could change people’s hearts, both within and without the Church.  In 1966 she put into historical perspective the thorny issue of wealth in the Church, with a similar theme of that of Rite Expiatis, in which the Pope, writing about the great vision of St. Francis, had regretted that “even greed for wealth and pleasure was not absent among the clergy”:

“I am thinking of how many leave the Church because of the scandal of the wealth of the Church, the luxury of the Church which began in the very earliest day, even perhaps when the Apostles debated on which should be highest in the kingdom and when the poor began quarreling as to who were receiving the most from the common table…  St. Paul commented on the lack of esteem for the poor, and the kowtowing to the rich, and St. John in the Apocalypse spoke of the scandal of the churches, ‘where charity had grown cold.’”

Our new Pope Francis has already spoken out against careerism and vanity in the Church.

We know that Dorothy Day, who loved the Eastern liturgies and was a Benedictine Oblate in the Eastern rite, would rejoice in the news that the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, Bartholomew I, travelled to Rome to take part in Pope Francis’ installation. He is the first ecumenical patriarch to take part since the Great Schism between the two churches in 1054. His spokesperson said the decision to take part in the Mass was “the fruit” of the growing dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. Patriarch Bartholomew received the kiss of peace from Pope Francis himself during the Mass.

The Russian Orthodox Church also sent a representative, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Russian Patriarch sent a message of congratulations:

“At your accession to the papacy you chose the name Francis, which recalls famous Catholic saints who have served as an example of sacrificial devotion to alleviating people’s suffering and zealous preaching of the Gospel. In your choice one can see your desire to continue to care for the poor and the afflicted, which you showed in compassion and love over the many years of your service in Argentina, carrying the message of Christ crucified and risen to the modern world.

“This same mission is now a priority for the Russian Orthodox Church, opening the possibility for co-operation and interaction with the Roman Catholic Church.

Orthodox and Catholics should be determined to combine their efforts to protect harassed and persecuted Christians in various parts of the world, as these people need our support and aid. We need to labour together for the affirmation of traditional moral values in modern secular societies.”

The Messages of Pope Francis in His First Days As Pope

The new Holy Father is known as a humble man, but also as an intellectual and a man of profound faith that is concretely lived.

In his talk to the 5,000 plus journalists who were in Rome to cover the conclave to elect the Pope, he said that the Church exists to communicate truth, beauty, and goodness “in person,” and noted that as journalism also demands a particular concern for what is true, good and beautiful, this is something that the Church has in common with journalists. In that talk Pope Francis put his election as the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of the Apostle Peter, in perspective, emphasizing that Christ is the center of all, the heart of the Church, not the Pope:

“Christ is the Church’s Pastor, but his presence in history passes through the freedom of human beings; from their midst one is chosen to serve as his Vicar, the Successor of the Apostle Peter. Yet Christ remains the centre, not the Sucessor of Peter: Christ, Christ is the centre. Christ is the fundamental point of reference, the heart of the Church. Without him, Peter and the Church would not exist or have reason to exist.”

In his first Angelus message he spoke of God’s mercy: “God’s face is that of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God’s patience, the patience that He has with each of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience, is always patient with us, understanding us, awaiting us, never tiring of forgiving us if we know how to return to him with a contrite heart. ‘Great is the Lord’s mercy,’” says the Psalm.  Pope Francis added, “A bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”   Reflecting on the reading of the day about the woman caught in adultery and those who wanted to have her stoned, he said, “I think even we are sometimes like these people, who on the one hand want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, sometimes we like to stone others and condemn others. The message of Jesus is this: mercy.”

At his first Mass with the cardinals the day after his election, Pope Francis emphasized another aspect of the spirituality of Saint Francis, the Cross. Saint Francis was devoted to the crucified Christ and even received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ in his own body. Pope Francis spoke of walking in the presence of the Lord and building up his Church, remembering the Cross – not as just another non-profit corporation, but as followers of Jesus:

“In these three readings [Isaiah 2:2-5, 1 Peter 2:4-9, Matthew 16:13-19] I see that there is something in common: it is movement. In the first reading, movement is the journey itself; in the second reading, movement is in the up-building of the Church. In the third, in the Gospel, the movement is in the act of profession of the faith: walking, building, professing, witnessing.

“Walking: ‘Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.’ This is the first thing God said to Abraham: ‘Walk in my presence and be blameless.’ Walking: our life is a journey and when we stop, there is something wrong. Walking always, in the presence of the Lord, in the light of the Lord, seeking to live with that blamelessness, which God asks of Abraham, in his promise.

“Building: to build the Church. There is talk of stones: stones have consistency, but the stones spoken of are]living stones, stones anointed by the Holy Spirit. Build up the Church, the Bride of Christ, the cornerstone of which is the same Lord. With every movement in our lives, let us build!

“Third, professing: we can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. When one does not walk, one stalls. When one does not built on solid rocks, what happens? What happens is what happens to children on the beach when they make sandcastles: everything collapses, it is without consistency.

“Walking, building-constructing, professing: the thing, however, is not so easy, because in walking, in building, in professing, there are sometimes shake-ups – there are movements that are not part of the path: there are movements that pull us back.

“This Gospel continues with a special situation. The same Peter who confessed Jesus Christ, says, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it.’ He says, ‘I’ll follow you on other ways, that do not include the Cross.’ When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

“I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage – the courage – to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ   Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward.”

At his inaugural Mass on St. Joseph’s day Pope Francis continued these themes, emphasizing in his homily how we should follow St. Joseph’s example as protector of Jesus and Mary, the man who was discreet, humble, silent and faithful, even when he did not understand. He asked us to be protectors of the weak and the poor, and of all creation. He told us we must not be afraid of goodness and tenderness as we reach out to protect the poorest, mentioning Matthew 25 and how we will be judged on how we respond to Jesus in the poor. He reminded us that authentic power is service, that only those who serve with love are able to protect. As he has done each time he has spoken, the Holy Father asked us to focus always on Christ at the center, and thus to become men and women of hope who can bring hope to others.

Elected By the Cardinals

At each conclave to elect a new Pope, the whole Church prays that the Holy Spirit will guide the Cardinals in their voting and selection. To the surprise of almost everyone, Pope Francis was elected.

We pray that our new Pope Francis will help us all to better follow Jesus, to follow the Gospel, in the footsteps of Saint Francis.