The pontificate of Pope Francis with his emphasis on poverty has resulted in a new tone of austerity in Vatican circles, with clerics avoiding any show of ostentation in favor of a new sobriety in dress, transportation and manners.
Francis has put aside official Vatican limousines, wears plain black shoes instead of soft red loafers and sits down to common meals with priests and other clerics in the cafeteria of the Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican residence where he is living. His Vatican spending cuts have affected almost everyone, and even the office in charge of naming saints has been told to lower expenses.
A shopkeeper named Luciano Ghezzi who sells clerical wear says that styles have definitely changed in the era of Pope Francis. When the Pope tones down his own dress, he says, “it is natural that everything around him takes on a more sober tone.”
“I know the bishop of Santo Domingo well,” Ghezzi told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. He has a wardrobe full of crazy miters. But he told me that now he is ashamed to wear that sumptuous headgear.”
Last Sunday the Pope spoke in his Angelus message of moving beyond concerns of eating, dressing, success and careers, inviting his listeners to spend more time preparing for eternity.
According to Father Filippo Di Giacomo, a priest-journalist and connoisseur of the Vatican, these days fewer cardinals show up willingly at fancy restaurants where they might get spotted by paparazzi.
“Even the relatives of religious are now careful not to give presents that appear too luxurious, because they know that the Pope does not like them,” said another vendor of religious goods, Giovanna Salustri. Her golden crosses, rings, reliquaries and monstrances, chalices, ciboria and censers sit unsold in her boutique shop. “Look at the beautiful cardinals’ crosses in the cases,” she adds, “made of silver studded with amethysts and lapis lazuli, each costing between 200 and 500 euro. Nobody buys them anymore because Francis wouldn’t like it and would never give his blessing to these objects. He always says, give the money to the poor.”
Father Di Giacomo recounts the story of how Francis, on being elected Pope, refused to go to the tailor but ordered his cassock from the Serpone catalog, a Naples outfit. “He’s like that. His cassock is polyester and cotton and cost at most 120 euros, not silk and mohair like many of the cardinals,” he said.
Life for the 46 cardinals and 80 bishops living in Rome has changed, at least in appearance.
“The caravan of midnight blue cars has ended,” says Father Di Giacomo, referring to the parade of chauffeured automobiles that used to be seen every morning taking many of the prelates to their offices.
Francis, he said, is traveling in the Ford Focus. So now the Cardinals go on foot.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome