Unprecedented image in two thousand years of Catholic history

Posted on March 25, 2013


The two popes: Francis and Benedict XVIThe two popes: Francis and Benedict XVI

The similarities between Bergoglio and Ratzinger outnumber the difference

Andrea Tornielli
Vatican City

The images of the two popes (the newly appointed and the Emeritus) hugging, praying together side by side, amiably chatting and exchanging presents are destined to make history. Never before has a pope resigned due to old age and remained to live near his successor, still wearing the papal attire. Never before has the Bishop of Rome had an Emeritus nearby to count on and to ask for advice.

The image of the two popes next to one another, dressed in the same garments (the short cape and belt worn by Bergoglio, and not by Ratzinger, are but inconsequential details perhaps not even worthy of mention) presents a brand new, unprecedented reality, which we can however accept as “normal” thanks to the sensitivity and humility of both protagonists.

In the last few days many commentators have highlighted the new elements that characterize the style of the new pope and the break from his predecessor. On one side, there are people who are worried because the new pope has gathered a lot of consensus among believers and non, as if the only true Catholic inclination ought to be the one that causes discontent, conflict, arguments and dislikes; people who emphasize that Francis is not a “pauperist”, that he draws lines both politically and doctrinally any time poor people are mentioned as if Jesus had never spoken about them. Some people point out that the new pope is against abortion (it would have certainly been news if he had been for it). On the other side there are those who underline the novelty of the new pope, not so much in order to describe Francis’ deeds or to focus on reality, but in order to draw a comparison with his predecessor.
A few hours after he was elected pope Francis was already at the centre of gossip. According to a rumour, right after the election, he had refused to wear the red velvet mozzetta with the (fake) ermine hem and had said to the Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations Guido Marini: “ Wear that yourself, the charade is over”. That would have been an unkind remark to the master of ceremonies, a downright rude one in fact. The pope never said those words. Francis simply said to Marini as he offered the mozzetta “ I would rather not”. There was no mention of a charade, nor humiliation for the obedient master of ceremonies.

Gossip over continuity and break based on mozzettas, ermine furs and red shoes is threatening to overshadow the reality of true continuity between Benedict XVI and Francis. Theirs is a continuity that finds proof in several passages, in small deeds and stresses that were seen and heard during the first few days of this pontificate: the humility shown by both, their shared knowledge that the Church is ultimately led by God, their sense of non protagonism. After the election Benedict XVI said that “ everywhere the pope goes he shines the light of Christ, not his own”, Francis too, when talking to journalists, remarked that the protagonist is Christ not the pope.

Another element that the two popes have in common is their awareness of the need to safeguard the environment and all creation, of which mankind is the apex; in fact Benedict XVI had earned the nickname of “Green pope”; not to mention the  concern over career-ambition and the “ spiritual worldliness” within the Church. Only people who have forgotten Benedict XVI’s profound homilies on these matters during consistories and during the ceremonies to appoint bishops might think that there is no harmony between the two popes. Only people who do not know Ratzinger’s writings on liturgy might believe that his philosophy would centre around lace, ermine fur and evermore sophisticated parameters rather than the simple encounter with the mystery of Christ. Some time ago, during a TV show, Bergoglio said that mass is not “ a gathering of friends who come to pray and eat bread and wine… To what great extent a priest needs to prepare to celebrate the holy communion !”

The exceptional footage shot yesterday at Castel Gandolfo shows the pope Emeritus pointing out to his successor the papal kneeling stool and then trying to stand aside, but being prevented from doing so by Francis who took him by the hand to pray side by side because in his eyes they are “brothers”. Those who saw the footage perfectly understand the mutual consideration and harmony that exists between these two men. Those who heard Francis’ voice as he gave his predecessor the picture of Our Lady of Humility and said “ I thought of you because during your pontificate  you gave us many examples of tenderness and humility”  will not hesitate in recognizing humility as one of the common denominators between the two popes.

Posted in: Uncategorized