Leading by example can be more powerful than any doctrinal diktat.
VATICAN CITY - What is the power of the pope? Exactly what kind of power are we talking about? It is the power “of service.”
In these first days of the new pontificate, and Tuesday’s inaugural mass that officially begins that service, Francis has already given important and precise signs for the future.
On Monday, in the Casa Santa Marta, the new pope had a long and cordial meeting with the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I. This too was a sign charged with true significance.
Up until now, Papa Bergoglio has yet to refer to himself as the pope or the supreme pontiff, but rather always as the bishop of Rome. This choice is a clear signal that Francis wants to both improve the “collegiality” between the Vatican and the world’s Catholic bishops and foster greater “ecumenism” between Catholicism and other Christian faiths.
A pope who considers his principal mission to be the bishop of Rome, and thus “preside in charity,” sends a strong message toward his Orthodox brothers in the East.
Still, one should not be fooled by the explicit references to tenderness in his homily Tuesday, and his offering a poignant portrait of St. Joseph. Yes, Bergoglio is a simple man, who speaks of tender acts and God’s mercy, who wants a Church of “proximity” with the capacity to bow down before human misery, to understand ordinary men and women. But the fact that he is so natural being himself should not be mistaken for weakness.
“Ecclesia semper reformanda…” The Church must always be reforming itself, and Francis’ example, more than any single decision to institute change, is already setting off a renewed process of self-reform. If the pope does it this way, if he behaves like that, it will invite and remind everyone in the Church to follow him.
The faithful now have before their eyes a new Episcopal style; and they will look at their own parish priests, hoping to see reflections of the same sobriety.