For a Better World

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

Pope Francis I formally kicks-off his papacy March 17; admonishes that the poor, the elderly and children must be protected from harm by those in positions of responsibility

|  By Olu Ojewale  |  Apr. 1, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

IT was an irony of fate. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had asked for a meeting with President Cristina Fernández 14 times since she assumed office in 2007. For 14 times, she turned him down the request. The relationship between the two leaders was so strained that the president made it a point to leave Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina, every year on July 9, when the country celebrates its Independence Day. Her absence was to avoid attending the traditional Te Deum Mass celebrated by Bergoglio at Buenos Aires Cathedral. The mass was never missed by previous presidents.

Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe

All these have been consigned to history as Fernandez had to travel all the way to the Vatican City to be the first head of state to meet Bergolio, now Pope Francis I, on Monday, March 16. She also attended the inauguration of the pope held on Tuesday, March 19. Although there was no official statement on what the two leaders discussed at their private meeting, Francis’ reputation as a defender of the poor is never in doubt. He is also against same sex marriage, which Argentina has approved. But it was his concern for the poor that took the centre stage during the inauguration. His chosen name, Francis, is in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi, the 13th Century son of an aristocrat, who shunned a life of luxury to live with the poor.

Giving his homily in Italian before the crowd of between 150,000 and 200,000 people that graced the occasion at Saint Peter’s Square, Francis focused on Joseph and his role as the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church. He went further by saying that the role of a protector was not just a Christian one, but: “It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world… It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live.” He said it was incumbent on everyone to protect his fellow beings, showing love for each and everyone, especially the elderly and the needy.

Francis,76, similarly appealed to those in positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life to protect the creation. “Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened,” he said. He went further by warning people in power to live up to their duties, and for all to avoid evil, hatred and pride.

“I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: Let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment,” the pope said. Francis said the pope himself must be inspired by the lowly, “the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those who Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, those in prison.”

Senator David Mark
Senator David Mark

Francis had started the day by touring St Peter’s Square in an open-topped sport utility vehicle, which gave him the access he needed to be close to the people. He kissed the babies being held up for his kiss. At a point, he stepped down from the vehicle and moved to the barriers to bless a man with a physical disability. He spent about 20 minutes touring the square, waving and blessing people. After his homily, 500 priests gave communion to the faithful in attendance, including dignitaries. He wore the simple iron cross that he wore as a cardinal and that he had on when he first appeared as the new pope.

Pope Francis is known for his humility and informal style, which endear him to the masses. But that also has its price. A Daily Mail newspaper reported that the pontiff recently rang a Vatican receptionist directly, which was unusual for a pope to do. Having introduced himself, the disbelieving receptionist thought it was a prank, and said, “Oh, yes? And I’m Napoleon.”

But Francis patiently convinced the man that he was really the pope. He reportedly told the disbeliever, “I really am Pope Francis. Do not worry, Andreas, just connect me with Father General, I would like to thank him for the charming letter.” Then the man realised his error.

A Vatican expert explained that it was the duty of the secretary to make calls and not the pope making his own calls. But Pope Francis seems bent on being his own humble self. The Argentine is known for cooking his own food, living in his own apartment and riding the bus to work.

Once selected as pope, Francis reportedly shunned the papal limo and, instead, rode on the same bus with the cardinals. And at his first dinner after the election, he was quoted as telling the present cardinals, “May God forgive you” for choosing me.

The mass, which marked the official start of Francis’ papacy, lasted for about two hours in accordance with his spirit of simplicity. Prominent among those who attended the inauguration were Vice President Joe Biden of the United States; President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and David Mark, Senate president, who led the Nigerian delegation, among hundreds of others.

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