Being at the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. when the Habemus was announced was an extremely humbling experience. Surrounded by the priests, nuns, and brothers of the Church, alongside several fellow tourists, the air in the room grew dense with excitement as the newly elected Pope Francis stepped out onto that Vatican balcony for the first time. Many of us in the room kneeled. When we were greeted by a simple, “Buena sera,” or “Good evening,” however, I think we all realized that the Vicar of Christ may now be just as meek as his flock.
The remainder of the Urbi et Orbi blessing, not to mention events of the fortnight since, have only confirmed Pope Francis’s radically unassuming style. Shunning the so-called “Popemobile,” conversational formalities such as the “Holy Father” title, and other traditions meant to honor the pontiff’s position, it is clear that Francis truly means to live by his job description, “Servant of the Servants of God.” His very name recalls Saint Francis of Assisi, the son of a nobleman who denied his inheritance to live a life of poverty and service.
Such a change of attitude is desperately needed by an inflated and bickering Curia, where politics have supposedly taken the front seat after many years of scandal, as embodied by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and other papal lackeys with heavyhanded approaches. Emeritus Benedict, an introspective scholar by nature and possessive of an obviously profoundly personal faith, had trouble coming off as accessible to the faithful. But in Francis, we will likely see a “people’s pope.”
He faces many hurdles, however, at the outset. Foremost will be the need to assert his independence from Benedict. Although the two popes lunched at Castel Gondolfo on the 23rd of this month making that “a thing” would only hurt Francis.