There is a new sheriff in Vatican City and, judging by the way the world is embracing the differences this fresh pontiff brings to office, it appears many inside and outside the Catholic Church are gladdened and inspired.
Wearing the name Francis, the change agent of Assisi, he says things the saint himself might have said: "How I would like a poor church for the poor." On Holy Thursday he visited a Roman youth prison, something he did in Buenos Aires as archbishop, to wash (and kiss!) the feet of convicts. This provoked a strong response from some when he washed the feet of a young Muslim woman, a ritual the church's liturgical rules limit to men.*
His decision to live as an ordinary man, even within the privileged confines of Rome, has inspired awe and can be studied by looking at the way Jorge Bergoglio lived outside the clerical "bubble" in the decades leading to his installation: baking his own empanadas, flying coach, and—he might forgive us for the assumption—perhaps ironing his own spartan vestments.
His demeanor, characterized by a simplicity of style in dress and liturgy, reflects an ethos that underpins the Argentine's ministry—he really does believe, to the dismay of some traditionalists, that he is no different than you and me.
This played itself out on one of the biggest stages the world knows. Signaling to the Christian East and all Christians that he is but one patriarch among others, he stood on the porch of St. Peter's Basilica after his election and called himself simply "the bishop of Rome … which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust."
Still, there are things that are not ...1