Back Seat: the Pope with Argentinians in the chapel of Casa Santa Marta
The Italian media are speaking of “a revolution of small gestures,” of the “Bergoglio-style” that is refreshing the Church. Reported anecdotes abound of Francis’ symbolic first actions.
Instead of adorning himself with an ornate gold cross as Popes traditionally do, he wears a simple cross around his neck. He pointedly refuses to sit on a throne after his election and met his fellow cardinals standing, on equal footing. Since then he has also refused a “throne” – meeting with other religious leaders he sat on a chair similar to theirs, and one not placed on a raised dais.
The night he was elected, according to New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Vatican officials and staffers came forward to meet the new Pope. He politely put them off: “Not now, the people are waiting.” Then he went to the balcony. When he appeared before the world, he was plainly dressed, a simple white cassock, no regalia, no finery. He began with the simple “bona sera” and ended by wishing us all a “good night, have a good rest”, as if talking to family members.
Looking at his non-verbals, which experts believe are much more truthful than language, he comes across as someone with simplicity, a prayerful man of faith and warmth, like one who comes “to serve and not to be served.” This has since been confirmed by his subsequent meetings with different groups and his heart-felt, often unscripted, talks and homilies that reveal a deeply pastoral heart. It has also been confirmed by what we have learned about his choices and lifestyle as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires. All this conveys a person of substance and yet one with a light touch.
The fact that almost every account of him uses the word “humility” or “humble” to describe him, is indicative of how we pick up people’s actual “energy” much more than their words or actions. People are drawn to accessibility, to loving presence. A priest say: “I would go to him for confession!”
There is no doubt the Benedict Pope Emeritus is a man of great holiness and humility. However gestures can carry great power. And the right gestures can be bearers of transforming grace.
So Pope Francis, with the simplicity and wisdom worthy of his namesake, is letting his gestures speak a “word” that is capturing the attention of Church and world.