My favorite moment of Pope Francis’s installation mass was actually before he came out of St Peter’s. Some brothers and I had managed, thanks to a combination of factors (nice guards, neat cassocks and empty seats), to get into the priests (and seminarians, I think) section at the front of the square. We had a pretty good view of the main altar and a very good view of the big screen by the statue of St Peter. Fr Lombardi had said that the Holy Father wanted to simplify the ceremony so people would not be kept too long, and then as the cardinals were filing out, and the camera zoomed in on the Holy Father as he prepared to enter the square, he checked his watch. It was so human, so simple, that everyone smiled. Somehow we thought that the Pope, moments before his installation mass would be lost in contemplation, but not he. It was so natural and disarming, and for me, sort of iconic of his way of being. He is just very much himself, and not at all for himself, but thinking of others, concerned for the faithful that they not be kept too long waiting for the mass.
That was the entry into St Peter’s, so to speak, but it has been a small part of this larger entry that for me seems very much like Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. Pope Francis’s self effacing simplicity and humility, his love for the poor, the sick and the oppressed, shown in words and deeds, has really disarmed nearly everyone. The press has been overwhelmingly (at least in comparison) positive, and especially here, the streets have resounded with hosannas!
All that is wonderful, and is in fact as it should be, but we must remember whose vicar Francis is, and what the crowd was shouting only days after the triumphal entry. In some ways, the world has not changed much since Christ’s time. Many of those who followed Christ on that day may well soon be on their way to their own Emmaus, saying, as those disciples did, “we had hoped…” Indeed some have already been slightly shocked that the Pope should turn out to be, of all things, Catholic, while others complain that he is not Catholic enough. Today they praise and tomorrow they will condemn, but Pope Francis will keep on walking the path he has always walked. He knows that the Church is more than the liturgy, which is a scandal to some, and also more than a charitable social club, which is a stumbling block to others.
And he will triumph as Christ triumphed and as all true Christians always have, not through the honor of this world that is so fickle, but through the Cross, which stands ever firm as the world turns about it. We must accompany him this Holy Week, but above all during his ascent to Jerusalem in the months and years that lie ahead. We must follow him to the cross of misunderstanding, of accusation, of criticism. To be the Pope is to climb Calvary, and though he makes light of it, he knows that the task ahead will be hard, and will cause misunderstanding, but that it is the only way, because it is the way of the Master, and as Pope Francis never tires of repeating, neither he, nor anything else can be at the center, but Christ alone!