The Pope who takes care of pictures

Not an easy task this morning for the security guards in the Vatican. After the service in the parish church of St. Anna in the small Papal States, Pope Francis hurried outside through the aisle, stood in front of the exit and said goodbye to each person who attended the service with a handshake. What he is used to at home in Buenos Aires, he wanted to experience again at least on the first Sunday of his pontificate. The Pope who looks after his flock like a normal parish priest. These are the pictures that go around the world on this Sunday. In addition, his message of the day: “Mercy is the most important message of Jesus Christ!” Both in his free sermon at the service and in his first Angelus prayer from the window of the study in the Apostolic Palace, the central theme was “Mercy”.

According to the city of Rome, 300,000 came today for the first Angelus from Pope Francis.

Francis was joking again today. He explains that he has just read a book about mercy by the German Cardinal Walter Kasper. Kasper is an able and good theologian. He liked this book very much. With a smile he added that one shouldn't think that he was promoting his cardinals' books. Kasper's book impressed him. The cardinal writes in it that mercy changes everything. "A little mercy makes the world less cold and fairer," quoted Francis from the work. The reason for the considerations on the subject of mercy was today's Sunday Gospel (Jn 8: 1-11), in which Jesus does not condemn an ​​adulteress and urges her not to sin again in the future. The Pope's words received a great deal of attention. But what do they actually mean when applied? A few days ago a cardinal said in an interview that mercy was a big issue with Francis and that he could imagine that something could change on the subject of divorced and remarried people, for example.

With his words today the hope grows, but also the pressure on the new pontiff. It has long been warned again not to overload him with expectations that are too high. Because the disappointment is preprogrammed. Francis is now in office for four days; Outwardly, it has already made a style break compared to its predecessor. In terms of content, it will certainly also set new accents. But it is not to be expected that the changes there will be similarly radical.

On the outside, perhaps a few brief remarks. Both this morning at the service in Saint Anne and at the service with the cardinals on the day after his election in the Sistina, Francis refrained from wearing any special ornate robes. Today he wore a simple purple chasuble, in keeping with the liturgical season. Even the ceremonies no longer wore lace albums, but plain cotton. Francis goes to the ambo to preach and does not speak from his “throne”. In the Sistine Chapel he had the makeshift folk altar installed again on Thursday. Benedict XVI. had for a long time only used the altar in the Sistina, which stands directly under the fresco of the Last Judgment on the wall and thus celebrates large parts of the mass with the back to the fellow celebrants. Francis had that changed again for his first mass as Pope. We will see whether his line will prevail in the long run.

That will be the crucial question. In view of the radical papal change of style, there are already the first voices that the other church leaders see under pressure. Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone usually drives up in one of the newest and largest limousines available in the Vatican fleet; even if it only moves within the Vatican State - which is just 44 hectares in size. Can he do that in the future when the Pope drives a smaller car? These are initially only externalities. But that shouldn't be underestimated in the current phase. It seems that Francis knows very well and is watching what is happening around him. In the past eight years, during which he would almost have been Pope if he had not been defeated by Joseph Ratzinger in 2005, he has watched what was going on here at Roman headquarters. In many cases he will have thought carefully about what he would have done differently. This means that he is perhaps much better prepared for the new office than you might think at first glance.

Jürgen Erbacher

Since July 2018 I have been heading the ZDF editorial team "Church and Life Catholic", for which I have been reporting on the subjects of the Pope, the Vatican, theology and the Catholic Church since 2005. I commute regularly between Mainz and Rome - my second home. Before joining ZDF, I lived there for several years and worked for Radio Vatican. I studied political science and catholic theology in Freiburg i.Br. and Rome.