On Saturday, March 16, three days after being elected Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis met with over 5,000 journalists and media – including some of their family members – at the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican in Rome.
While the journalistic profession is often hostile to subjects of faith, the pope had nothing but warm words for those assembled, saying in Italian, “I love you so much, and I thank you for all that you have done.”
(The full text of the English translation of his remarks is below.)
Sitting on a chair in his simple white cassock, apparently still wearing his archbishop’s silver crucifix, flanked by clerics and the omnipresent Swiss Guard – lance at the ready should any overeager news hounds get too close – the former Cardinal Jose Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, called on the journalists to see a higher purpose in their efforts.
“Your work calls for careful preparation, sensitivity and experience,” he said, “like so many other professions, but it also demands a particular concern for what is true, good and beautiful. This is something we have in common, since the Church exists to communicate precisely this.”
He also explained the origin of his name, Francis, citing Saint Francis’ connection to the poor, his focus on peace – a big change from a young man who once dreamed of glory in battle – and his connection to the natural world.
At times, Pope Francis lifted his eyes from his prepared text and spoke directly and extemporaneously to the journalists, accompanied by hand gestures and animated facial expressions. His personality was particularly evident when he told the story of his name. Smiling and shrugging at the funny parts, he elicited laughter and applause.
While John Paul II was a dynamic speaker, having been an actor, scholarly Benedict XVI was a much more subdued presence and careful and deliberate in speech. While Pope Francis may not prove to be the towering figure that JPII was, he exuded good humor and friendliness during the address.
That same friendliness extended to his greetings to fellow clerics and others after the event, which included several warm and enthusiastic hugs and handshakes. One person greeting the pope also brought a yellow Labrador retriever as a service dog, which got a brief greeting and a blessing from the pontiff – whose namesake is the patron saint of animals.
He also extended a blessing to the crowd, but first addressed them in Spanish, saying, “I told you I was cordially imparting my blessing. Since many of you are not members of the Catholic Church, and others are not believers, I cordially give the blessing silently, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each, but in the knowledge that each of you is a child of God. May God bless you!”
This show of respect and cordiality caused a little thrill for the New York Times, whose headline read, “With Blessing, Pope Shows an Openness to Other Faiths.”
The story went on to say the gesture was a rare one “for a pontiff and a sign of openness toward other faiths and engagement with the secular world.”
In truth, while he may have taken special care not to offend the press, Pope Francis was following the tenets of the Catholic faith regarding respecting the equal dignity of all persons, as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which reads, “Any form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.”
Specifically regarding those who oppose the Church, it calls upon Catholics to be neighbors to others, including “those who think or act differently from us. The teaching of Christ goes so far as to require the forgiveness of enemies. He extends the commandment of love, which is that of the New Law, to all enemies. Liberation in the spirit of the Gospel is incompatible with hatred of one’s enemy as a person, but not with hatred of the evil he does as an enemy.”
Here are Pope Francis’ full remarks:
At the beginning of my ministry in the See of Peter, I am pleased to meet all of you who have worked here in Rome throughout this intense period which began with the unexpected announcement made by my venerable Predecessor Benedict XVI on 11 February last. To each of you I offer a cordial greeting.
The role of the mass media has expanded immensely in these years, so much so that they are an essential means of informing the world about the events of contemporary history. I would like, then, to thank you in a special way for the professional coverage which you provided during these days – you really worked, didn’t you? – when the eyes of the whole world, and not just those of Catholics, were turned to the Eternal City and particularly to this place which has as its heart the tomb of Saint Peter. Over the past few weeks, you have had to provide information about the Holy See and about the Church, her rituals and traditions, her faith and above all the role of the Pope and his ministry.
I am particularly grateful to those who viewed and presented these events of the Church’s history in a way which was sensitive to the right context in which they need to be read, namely that of faith.
Historical events almost always demand a nuanced interpretation which at times can also take into account the dimension of faith. Ecclesial events are certainly no more intricate than political or economic events! But they do have one particular underlying feature: they follow a pattern which does not readily correspond to the "worldly" categories which we are accustomed to use, and so it is not easy to interpret and communicate them to a wider and more varied public.
The Church is certainly a human and historical institution with all that that entails, yet her nature is not essentially political but spiritual: the Church is the People of God, the Holy People of God making its way to encounter Jesus Christ. Only from this perspective can a satisfactory account be given of the Church’s life and activity.
Christ is the Church’s Pastor, but his presence in history passes through the freedom of human beings; from their midst one is chosen to serve as his Vicar, the Successor of the Apostle Peter. Yet Christ remains the center, not the Sucessor of Peter: Christ, Christ is the center. Christ is the fundamental point of reference, the heart of the Church. Without him, Peter and the Church would not exist or have reason to exist. As Benedict XVI frequently reminded us, Christ is present in Church and guides her. In everything that has occurred, the principal agent has been, in the final analysis, the Holy Spirit. He prompted the decision of Benedict XVI for the good of the Church; he guided the Cardinals in prayer and in the election.
It is important, dear friends, to take into due account this way of looking at things, this hermeneutic, in order to bring into proper focus what really happened in these days.
All of this leads me to thank you once more for your work in these particularly demanding days, but also to ask you to try to understand more fully the true nature of the Church, as well as her journey in this world, with her virtues and her sins, and to know the spiritual concerns which guide her and are the most genuine way to understand her. Be assured that the Church, for her part, highly esteems your important work.
At your disposal you have the means to hear and to give voice to people’s expectations and demands, and to provide for an analysis and interpretation of current events. Your work calls for careful preparation, sensitivity and experience, like so many other professions, but it also demands a particular concern for what is true, good and beautiful. This is something which we have in common, since the Church exists to communicate precisely this: Truth, Goodness and Beauty "in person.” It should be apparent that all of us are called not to communicate ourselves, but this existential triad made up of truth, beauty and goodness.
Some people wanted to know why the Bishop of Rome wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes [OFM]: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: "Don't forget the poor!" And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi.
Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!
Afterwards, people were joking with me. "But you should call yourself Hadrian, because Hadrian VI was the reformer, we need a reform…" And someone else said to me: "No, no: your name should be Clement.” "But why?" "Clement XV: thus you pay back Clement XIV who suppressed the Society of Jesus!" These were jokes.’
I love all of you very much. I thank you for everything you have done. I pray that your work will always be serene and fruitful, and that you will come to know ever better the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the rich reality of the Church’s life. I commend you to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of Evangelization, and with cordial good wishes for you and your families, each of your families. I cordially impart to all of you my blessing. Thank you.