Only God could do this. Just when we think Christianity is nearly down and out in Europe, the Church of England goes and appoints a Holy Spirit filled Archbishop who keeps asking himself, ‘what would the man in sandals do?’ and then the Roman Catholics appoint a Pope who begins his first day saying he wants to be known as Francis (the man of God from Assisi who had a heart for the poor and creation), and saying that the church should be ‘poor and for the poor’.
Minutes after the election result was declared in the Sistine Chapel, a Vatican official offered to the new Pope the traditional papal red cape trimmed with ermine that his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI gladly wore on ceremonial occasions.
“No thank you, Monsignore,” Pope Francis is reported to have replied. “You put it on instead. Carnival time is over!”
You only had to look at the shocked faces of many of the courtiers when they suddenly realised the significance of what had happened and understood that it really was over. Was the man in sandals in the Vatican as well as in Canterbury?
Another moment of truth occurred when Pope Francis broke the seals of the Papal Apartment in the Apostolic Palace to take possession of his new home. Vatican officials genuflected and bowed as Archbishop George Gaenswein, secretary of the now retired Pope Benedict but still master of the papal household, searched for the light switch while the Pope stood motionless for a moment, outlined in the dark, surveying the scene.
“There’s room for 300 people here,” he’s reported to have remarked. “I don’t need all this space.”
It was just one small sign out of many this week that the era of the Pope-King and of the Vatican court is over.
What has also fascinated observers is that the new Pope has no close personal secretary or aide following him around like a personal shadow that former Pope Benedict had. Only hours after his election the new Pope slipped out of the Vatican in an unmarked car to pray at a Rome basilica where the founder of his order once prayed. And then he asked the driver to stop at the hotel for clergy in the centre of Rome where he had been staying before the conclave to pay his bill and pick up his bags. Unheard of! A Christian leader carrying his own bags!!!
The following day he again left the Vatican, incognito, to visit a sick friend in hospital.
The new pope is a frugal man, a friend of the poor. As bishop he was used to travelling around Buenos Aires incognito on public transport and cooking for himself in a small apartment.
He has already told his fellow bishops in Argentina not to waste their money on travelling to Rome for his installation ceremony but to give the money to the poor instead.
I am gob smacked. Humbled. I never thought I’d see anything like this in my time. For so long my life has revolved around All Nations Church as the appointed place of blessing and I was really feeling the bereavement of not being involved in our church’s anniversary at the beginning of the month – when this happens! My spirit soared again on wings like an eagle. Again I was reminding myself that our ‘so much more’ God works best in a grave yard, and in a church I’d given up on! Who said God was dead?