Monday, April 8, 2013

Pope Francis Is One Of The Simple People

No more solo papal walks on the First Class deck of the Catholic Titanic for Pope Francis.  He's commanding a different kind of papal barque.

One of the differences between Pope Francis and Emeritus Pope Benedict is their definition of 'simple people'.  Francis sees 'simple people' as those living a simple less encumbered life, and teaches all should strive for that simplicity.  EPBenedict seemed to see 'simple people' as less educated and less sophisticated than himself, and thought these people should be protected from people of similar education, sophistication, and intelligence, like Hans Kung and others.  These were the people who didn't meet Benedict's criteria for properly formed Catholic intelligentsia.  The following article from Vatican Insider really demonstrates the simplicity of Francis.  Francis called a long time friend to wish him happy birthday and then drops the bomb shell about a planned December visit to Argentina.  What are friends for other than to share news and views?

Francis: “I’m staying at St. Martha’s House because I don’t want to isolate myself"

 ANDREA TORNIELLI - Vatican Insider - 4/5/2013
Pope Francis told a priest friend  of his that he will be visiting Argentina in December and also explained why he has not moved in to the papal apartment, preferring to stay in the Domus Sanctae Marthae (St. Martha’s House), the Vatican residence where the 115 cardinal electors stayed during the Conclave. Francis likes dining with others, chatting and sharing news.

Francis telephoned Fr. Jorge Chichinzola, parish priest of the Church of Holy Martyrs in Posadas in the afternoon on Easter day. “He called me at 17:10 to wish me for my birthday. I guessed it was him straight away: sometimes he would call a day before to make sure the phone line was active. “How are you? he asked me.” Fr. Chichizola talked to radio LT4 Red Ciudadana about their conversation and said he had spoken to Bergoglio just a few hours before the Conclave started.

The Argentinean priest, who was ordained at the same time as the new Pope, said Francis confirmed he was going to visit Argentina next December and added that he “never forgets his friends.” But during last Sunday’s telephone call , Bergoglio talked to Fr. Jorge about his reasons for staying in St. Martha’s House. Francis “likes sitting down to table with others, chatting and sharing news. He doesn’t want to be isolated.” When they showed him the rooms in the papal apartment, he said: “This is too big for me.” “He also added that he was driving his escorts and security staff crazy because he likes getting close to people, but that now they are getting used to it,” Fr. Chichinzola said. (I suspect this means they have accepted the fact Francis is willing to entertain personal risk in order to be accessible to the faithful. There is no changing his mind.)

“He is a man who is not afraid of taking risks and will continue along his path. He told me that one of his security guards brought him a letter written by one of his children and he replied to it.”

 The Pope’s words confirm the reasons that led to him deciding not to live in the papal apartment: Francis likes meeting people even at lunch and dinner time. He doesn’t like isolating himself.


I think the change in papal styles, and what those changes imply, is going to take some getting used to for all Catholics.  In some respects Francis reminds me a lot of myself.  To say I live a simple life style is an understatement and I do eat a lot my meals in a communal setting with some interesting and simple dinner companions. Yet on the other hand, I could also understand Pope Benedict's more solitary academic life style because that reflects part of me as well. On my days off I am very solitary and spend hours researching and writing.  What my two lifestyles have taught me though, is that really effective evangelization is easier accomplished out and about, mingling with people and 'being' in a full and honest way my belief structures.  I don't necessarily live all my academic interests, but they do influence my conversation and 'being'.

Most of us don't actually get to fashion an ideal world for ourselves that let's us live our comfort level.  Most of humanity has to adapt to external circumstances and try to make those circumstances comfortable.  Francis has gone out of his way to provide some comfort for people in really trying circumstances.  He has made the comfort of the Church of the Poor as available to as many people as he could.  Living as he does has most certainly helped the authenticity of his effort.  It would be hard to substitute spiritual wealth for material wealth if he himself was living in the lap of luxury.  "Easy for him to say" would be the truthful if cynical view of that kind of faith expression. It really does help to live the talk, maybe especially if it is by personal choice, not forced circumstances.  I am well aware that I have had the freedom to choose to live simpler.  I have not always lived simply.  I am also well aware that part of that choice was directly predicated by a desire to remove a lot of stress, and not necessarily because I wanted to live a life more closely aligned with the Gospels.  I can also report that having done so, it is easier to live a life more closely aligned to the Gospels.  The Way not only makes spiritual sense, it's provides for less stress and that's always a good and healthy thing.

Pope Benedict also lived a pretty simple life, but not in the same way as Francis.  Benedict's idea of a simple life meant paring down the interests he pursued.  I have no doubt he could have lived in a monastic cell and been quite happy--as long as he had access to a really good library, really good music, and a close cadre of fellow academics.  I could lose everything I own except my computer and internet access because they give access to an incredible library, good music, baseball and hockey coverage, and the ability to communicate with lots of other people and opinions. Give me a computer and an Internet card and I could live in a cave--as long as it had running water and enclosed plumbing.  Unfortunately for Pope Benedict, his cave was pretty opulent.  It's very opulence necessitated other people tasked with maintaining it's opulence.  It made it too easy to define 'simple' people in a quite different way from Francis.  History will never record Pope Benedict as a 'populist' pope, and I firmly believe Benedict would personally be appalled if his papacy were ever to be described as such.  His was a papacy for the refined, not the shanties.  

EPBenedict would have never announced a major visit to his native country without going through the proper diplomatic channels.  He may have told his brother beforehand but his brother would have stayed silent. It's just not done.  Pope Franics however, had no problem with announcing his upcoming visit to Argentina in the most natural way for him, via a phone call to a long time friend.  That's the way it's done when friends and family matter more than protocol, and that may be the singular message of this papacy.  Friends and family matter more than protocol.  Life is meant to be lived simply but does not mean those living it simply are simple.  Jesus may have lived simply, but I don't think anyone who has studied the Gospels would call Him simple. Or to put it differently, the Barque of Peter is no longer the Titanic.  It's to be a barque with deck chairs and life preservers for everyone.


  1. Insightful observations as always, Colleen! I always look forward to each and every new post of yours.

  2. "The Way not only makes spiritual sense, it's provides for less stress and that's always a good and healthy thing."

    That's really the key thing, isn't it, that often gets lost in the back & forth debate on theologies and doctrines, etc. I think you managed a very simple and accessible way of describing it right there. Or, as Jesus put it:

    "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." ~Matthew 11:30

    Oh, I'd be pretty lost without hockey too ;)

  3. I only hear envious rage from the curia at the new Pope and the American cardinals are sticking with their same modus operandi as they used under Benedict. If Francis threatens the Vatican bank as JPI did or even if he begins to reform the clerical system, we may see a JPI type end to this papacy.

    On the other hand as a Jesuit, Francis should be a smart man, but is he smart enough to protect himself against the envious rage of powerful men running the day to day part of the Vatican. Or finally, is Francis all theatre like JPII. Can he does he really want to change anything? Can he be a John XXIII ---- Chances are still poor for this and the answer will come soon enough. dennis

  4. BronxirishcatholicApril 9, 2013 at 7:32 PM

    Do they get NHL Center Ice in monastic cells?

  5. I was quite encouraged by the decision by Papa Francesco to live in a multiple person residence. It means he will not be isolated but have continual exposure to living with other people and experience the exchange of friendship and points of view from others. The isolation of popes historically has not been health for them or for the Church.

  6. If they have a good internet card with fast download speeds. Otherwise there is always radio.

  7. A brilliant way to frame the difference, Colleen. And I love the EPBenedict title!