This article is published in issue 2-3 of Vanity Fair on newsstands until January 19, 2021
He is a different Pope, so different that he has ringed absolute primates. It is the first to come from America, it is the first time that a member of the Society of Jesus arrives at the throne. But there is something even newer about him, something so profoundly ecumenical that also involves those who are not Christians: the name he has chosen and that no Pope had chosen before him. Francis of Assisi is the clearest and most profound saint of the Catholic Church. He talked to animals and plants, had an amazing ecological conscience, but he was also a great diplomat, a learned man, an adventurous man, a true revolutionary. He has subverted many things, first of all his own life.
By adopting this name, Jorge Maria Bergoglio brought with him, up there in the Vatican, the life of a man who knew how to mess up the cards of the world by devoting himself to poverty and commitment, to a love for creatures made “Who can ever forget that Sunday in March under a rain cold and gray, while she implores God: “Save us!” »of works and words. We hardly noticed that no Pope had ever chosen to be called Francis.
Pope Francis is a different Pope because he has decided not to take possession of the Apostolic Palace which belongs to him: lives in the Santa Marta residence. An austere but modest place, where anyone of us can imagine sitting with him at the breakfast table, surrounded by the scent of steaming coffee in the jugs, spreading apricot jam on the toasted slice.
By taking this name he meant something to everyone – Catholics, Christians and non-Christians. It is as if he had gone back centuries and centuries to pick up the thread of the discourse on the words of St. Francis of Assisi, while also making a leap into the future. Let’s change things to have a future, Francis’s name seems to tell us. To everyone: Catholics, Christians and non-Christians.
He is a different Pope in the words he uses, in the messages he entrusts to listening. But it is also, perhaps even more so for its silences. He has chosen to honor the vow of poverty and simplicity in the standard of living and in the words with which he addresses the world, but he is also a Pope with gestures of sumptuous solemnity, which takes your breath away. Who will ever forget him, that Sunday in March under a cold and gray rain, as he gives the Urbi et Orbi blessing and begs God: “Save us!” from the catastrophe, from the plague, from the pain. It was just absurd loneliness. But even before the words were recited, the power of that gesture was all in the silence of the void. Him, and the emptiness of the square. He is the emptiness of the silence of a God who is silent in the face of evil. Here, Francis is the Pope of a rediscovered simplicity but also of a complex code of solemnity. Church means community, yet precisely in that abysmal solitude, in the silence that was around him and within each of us, that day the Pope said something to everyone. Even to those who are not Christians.
But his most beautiful gesture, of a solemn and indescribable beauty, lies perhaps in the absence, which as the poet Attilio Bertolucci says is «true presence». It was a February day with clear skies and gentle sunshine. A helicopter took off from atop the Vatican, flew over Rome with slow generosity, headed north-east, dropped its human cargo at Castel Gandolfo. Pope Benedict XVI took his leave, gave up. How much sweetness and how much energy, in those few minutes of flight. Who knows what he may have thought. Who knows what nostalgia, what regrets, what rediscovered serenity he will have confided in the light of day and the blue sky up there. And the other, that Bergoglio who would take his place in the meantime? Who knows what he was thinking in those moments?
With his words and silences, with the name he bears and the gestures he performs, Francis is a Pope who destabilizes us all. Which is always a bit of a good thing. Even when he tells truths, he basically does nothing but displace certainties. Doubt, as we know, is not a matter for faith: it is none other than its opposite. Yet, Pope Francis sometimes seems to say to everyone – Catholics, Christians and non-Catholics – that a little doubt does not hurt, not even our certainties.
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