Vatican City — Pope Francis met with the press in Paul VI audience hall Saturday morning in Rome. People were lined up well before 9 a.m. for an 11 a.m. event. The press office had told media they could invite friends and families, and there were indeed children and families from Rome gathered for the event.
The pope was remarkably warm — he wound up hugging a number of people who were invited to greet him and this was the first time I ever heard jokes from a pope in an audience and laughter from the crowd. His was a full embrace of the media:
The role of the mass media has expanded immensely in these years, so much so that they are an essential means of informing the world about the events of contemporary history. I would like, then, to thank you in a special way for the professional coverage which you provided during these days – you really worked, didn’t you? – when the eyes of the whole world, and not just those of Catholics, were turned to the Eternal City and particularly to this place which has as its heart the tomb of Saint Peter. Over the past few weeks, you have had to provide information about the Holy See and about the Church, her rituals and traditions, her faith and above all the role of the Pope and his ministry.
But it was also a challenge:
I am particularly grateful to those who viewed and presented these events of the Church’s history in a way which was sensitive to the right context in which they need to be read, namely that of faith. Historical events almost always demand a nuanced interpretation which at times can also take into account the dimension of faith. Ecclesial events are certainly no more intricate than political or economic events! But they do have one particular underlying feature: they follow a pattern which does not readily correspond to the “worldly” categories which we are accustomed to use, and so it is not easy to interpret and communicate them to a wider and more varied public. The Church is certainly a human and historical institution with all that that entails, yet her nature is not essentially political but spiritual: the Church is the People of God, the Holy People of God making its way to encounter Jesus Christ. Only from this perspective can a satisfactory account be given of the Church’s life and activity.
And so he made a request:
also to ask you to try to understand more fully the true nature of the Church, as well as her journey in this world, with her virtues and her sins, and to know the spiritual concerns which guide her and are the most genuine way to understand her.
Christ is the Church’s Pastor, but his presence in history passes through the freedom of human beings; from their midst one is chosen to serve as his Vicar, the Successor of the Apostle Peter. Yet Christ remains the centre, not the Successor of Peter: Christ, Christ is the centre. Christ is the fundamental point of reference, the heart of the Church. Without him, Peter and the Church would not exist or have reason to exist. As Benedict XVI frequently reminded us, Christ is present in Church and guides her. In everything that has occurred, the principal agent has been, in the final analysis, the Holy Spirit. He prompted the decision of Benedict XVI for the good of the Church; he guided the Cardinals in prayer and in the election.
There is a real continuity here, as Pope Francis focuses on encountering the Divine person of Christ as Benedict did as the reason for our lives. And the pope makes no sense without him.
In addressing the media of the world, he new pontiff pointed to the true, good, and beautiful:
At your disposal you have the means to hear and to give voice to people’s expectations and demands, and to provide for an analysis and interpretation of current events. Your work calls for careful preparation, sensitivity and experience, like so many other professions, but it also demands a particular concern for what is true, good and beautiful. This is something which we have in common, since the Church exists to communicate precisely this: Truth, Goodness and Beauty “in person”. It should be apparent that all of us are called not to communicate ourselves, but this existential triad made up of truth, beauty and goodness.
Pope Francis, so clearly comfortable in his black shoes (as a friend observed), went off text explaining how he came to settle on Francis as a name and to confirm that it was, in fact, Francis of Assisi he had in mind. In the crowd I settled in with by the time, though, there was absolutely no question. And while they didn’t have any idea who the cardinal just elected pope was – the name wasn’t clear to many in the audience – they didn’t seem to need to, for they had a Holy Father who loves Francis of Assisi! Perhaps they understood instinctively that he would, as he put it Saturday, be a pope who would see the Church loving Christ and the poor.