Openness, modesty, change: Pope Francis has launched a revolution in the Vatican as he seeks to clean up the Catholic Church and improve its image. In the process, the pontiff is making friends as well as enemies.
The great awakening begins at 7 a.m. every morning in the Vatican, when Pope Francis stands before 80 or 90 employees in the austere, modern chapel of the Santa Maria guesthouse and reads the first mass of the day. He speaks Italian with a soft Spanish intonation, reading the mass without a manuscript and without using Latin -- and looking directly into the faces of the congregation. He then vanishes through the vestry to join the worshippers, folding his hands, bowing his head and praying.
The Vatican's garbage collectors were the first employees the new pope invited to these morning masses, followed by the security personnel, gardeners, nuns and even Vatican Bank advisors. Many of the Vatican's roughly 4,000 employees come to the mass -- not because they are required to, but because they adore Francis.
"He has no trepidations," says a fellow resident of the guesthouse on the southern edge of Vatican City, where Francis lives. He gives "simple sermons (with) warm words. He has overcome the separation between the laity and the clergy."
At lunch, Jorge Mario Bergoglio stands in the cafeteria and waits for his coffee to drip out of the machine. "He sat alone at first, and we would stare over at him," says the fellow resident. But now they sit with him. Recently, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, one of the youngest members of the conclave, went over to the pope and asked: "Holy Father, may I?" "Of course, holy son," the pope replied.
Francis is a fisher of men, much like former Pope John Paul II. Almost four months after his election on March 13, after his first, almost shy "buona sera" from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, he has taken his office to heavenly heights. He makes it easy for people to love him. They like his incongruous approach and his plain words. "Pray for me," he tells them, or "bon appetit." They like the fact that he ignores protocol, that he washed the feet of a Muslim woman at Easter, drives a Ford Focus or takes the bus and chose to live in the guesthouse instead of the Apostolic Palace.
Pope of Gestures
Bergoglio is the first Jesuit and, since the Middle Ages, the first non-European in the papacy. He was born in Argentina, at the "end of the world," as he says, to Italian immigrant parents. It is this perspective from which he still looks at the Old World. It allows him to demonize the financial crisis, poverty and instability that are now plaguing Southern Europe. This pope lives in the present and is more political than his predecessor. But it is also clear that he will remain silent on certain issues and stick to his German predecessor's approach: the ordination of women, celibacy, abortion and gay marriage.
Benedict XVI was the pope of words, a professorial pope whose masses resembled lectures. Francis is the opposite. Instead of arguing, he appeals to people; he is best understood through his gestures and appearances. His visit to the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa was a gesture of compassion, and it offered a taste of his approach: going to the people, mingling with them and asking uncomfortable questions.