JP in Rome: Pope Francis’ First Angelus


This afternoon, Pope Francis delivered his first Angelus address. He appeared at the window of his papal apartment, which is still being prepared for him. Crowds started arriving inside St. Peter’s Square hours in advance of the event. When the Pope appeared, crowds numbered around 100,000-200,000. The crowds were larger than those inside the square on the night of the Pope’s election. In his remarks, the Pope spoke about God’s mercies, setting the tone for a kinder, gentler Catholicism. Thus far, the Pope’s themes have been simple, appealing to the affective lives of everyday Christians.

In a surprising move, Pope Francis mentioned Cardinal Walter Kasper. It was the Pope’s first reference to a living theologian. The German cardinal is the President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Kasper served as an assistant to the controversial theologian Hans Küng. And, Kasper has entered into debate at times with the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The two men often debated the relationship between the universal and particular Church.

Associated Press

Associated Press

Pope Francis called Cardinal Walter Kasper “un teologo in gamba,” which caused Italians in the crowd to chuckle. Their reaction elicited confusion from non-Italians. After the Angelus, I spoke with some native speakers of Italian. Each one told me that the expression “in gamba” is colloquial. A priest told me it is Italian street language. The expression means something along the lines of a “good” or “clever” man. One Italian – fluent in English – explained to me that the expression is equivalent to our “dude” or the German “Mensch.” Use of the expression indicates something about Pope Francis’ closeness to the Roman people. He isn’t someone who hides behind the grandeur of his papal office; his presence is immediate – he connects with common people. As the BBC explained, the Pope is a natural communicator.

Such closeness was in evidence toward the end of the Angelus, as well. At the conclusion of his remarks, Pope Francis wished the people a “buon pranzo!” or “good lunch.” It was a small gesture, to be sure. But, it indicated the Pope’s closeness to the life of the Roman people. He is familiar with their lives and he shirks whatever stuffiness might separate the Bishop of Rome from his people. Perhaps, that is the reason Pope Francis refused to don the ermine mozzetta on the night of his election.

An anecdote is going around Rome. One religious sister in full habit told me that – before his appearance at the central loggia – Cardinal Marini tried to convince Pope Francis to don the ermine mozzetta. Pope Francis responded to him, “You put it on. Carnival is over.” It is becoming clear that the Pope desires a simpler and more immediate papal presence.

The Pope’s speeches communicate that desire, too. He speaks off the cuff and in the manner of a parish priest, using simple language. The BBC compared the Pope to a parish priest speaking at his lectern. Oftentimes, Pope Francis’ speeches are unavailable to the media ahead of schedule. There have been few embargoed copies of the Pope’s speeches. Instead, the Pope speaks to the people first and then his remarks are made available to the media.

But, Pope Francis has turned more than the Sala Stampa upside down. He has been keeping Vatican and Italian police on their toes, as well. After Pope Francis celebrated the Eucharist at the Vatican’s Sant’Anna parish this morning, he started heading toward the Vatican gates and the streets of Rome. He wanted to walk among the people. But, Vatican police worked overtime to convince the Pope to remain inside the Vatican. Not wanting to inconvenience a nervous police squad, the Pope agreed to remain inside the Vatican … for now. However, the morning after the election, Fr. Lombardi told the world’s media that this Pope is going to be more accessible to the people. And, he reminded the media that the police work for the Pope, not vice versa.

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About Author

John Paul Shimek is a 2003 honors graduate of Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire--one of the oldest Benedictine colleges in North America. He holds ecclesiastical degrees from the graduate schools of Philosophy, Theology, and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Those degrees were awarded to him in the names of Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinals Theodore McCarrick and Donald Wuerl. His academic specializations include the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Second Vatican Council, and Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. John Paul has provided special counsel to numerous Church leaders, including both the former and current archbishops of Milwaukee, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Jerome Listecki. Most recently, he served as a technical theological assistant to Archbishop Listecki during the preparation of a pastoral letter for the Year of Faith. He has been interviewed and he has written on a wide spectrum of religious and public forum issues for numerous media outlets, including CNN, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Telemundo, Zenit, the Catholic News Agency, the National Catholic Register, Catholic Exchange, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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