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Below are a few facts about Pope Francis:

He was quite the imp in primary school. Martha Rabino is five years younger than Jorge Bergoglio but recalls that he used to visit one of his schoolteachers, Sister Rosa, who died recently at the age of 101. Sister Rosa, according to Sister Martha Rabino, told Bergoglio that he was ‘a devil’ and asked him whether he got any better. Sister Martha, incidentally, taught Argentina’s President Christina Fernandez (Mrs Kirchner) catechism many years ago.

He had his first — and only — crush, it would seem, at the age of 12. His young ‘girlfriend’ was the same age. Her parents put an end to their puppy love, but not before he drew the girl a picture of the house they would live in once they were married. He said that if she wouldn’t be his girlfriend, he would become a priest.

He is known for his austere style of living, declining to reside in the Cardinal’s mansion. Instead, he lived in a small flat in downtown Buenos Aires, cooked for himself and relied on public transport. He is no stranger to the slums and has a keen interest in the poor.

– He loves Argentina and believes that Great Britain has usurped the Falkland Islands.

He chose his name in memory of St Francis of Assisi rather than St Francis Xavier, one of the seven original Jesuits who journeyed to the Far East as a missionary in the Middle Ages.

– His sister believes he will have a life of ‘infinite loneliness’ in the Vatican and confirms he did not want the post.

President Christina Fernandez has asked the Pope to intervene in the Falklands dispute, after residents overwhelmingly voted — 99% — to remain British.

On Tuesday morning, March 19, 2013, I watched the Pope’s installation Mass on BBC1. In 2005, I watched Pope Benedict XVI’s, which was glorious. Pope Francis’s was quite different and left me uneasy. I took several pages of notes which contain many exclamation marks.

Jon Sopel, who normally presents political programmes, led the panel of Archbishop Peter Smith of the Roman Catholic diocese of Southwark (London), Joanna Moorhead of Faith Today and Dr Eamon Duffy, prominent papal historian.

They made little mention of Pope Benedict, who, by the way, did not attend the Mass. The only time his name came up was when the panel discussed the paedophilia scandals. The Archbishop thought that it was time to stop talking about the issue, a sentiment I have read from other Catholics lately. It seems to be a new meme. That said, the Archbishop said that the scandals would continue to come to light.

Let’s not forget that this was John Paul II’s mess which he refused to clean up and left Benedict XVI to do it. John Paul II thought many of these incidents were fiction based on Communist propaganda techniques used against Catholic clergy behind the Iron Curtain in the old days.

I find it disappointing that the media gave John Paul II a pass on everything because he looked so good on television. He should have; he was a stage actor before becoming a priest.

Still, the question remains — and many Protestant ministers have blogged on it — where is the church discipline? There has been some, but the stories which reach the press are those where secret or quiet deals have taken place where these priests — and now a cardinal — are still allowed to exercise their office.

Now on to highlights of the Mass and the BBC’s commentators.

– Pope Francis’s ring is recycled. Normally, these are made new for each Pope from gold and a precious stone. Francis’s does not appear to have a jewel and is silver-plated.

– Pope Francis will not be wearing the traditional red slippers nor will he continue with Benedict XVI’s penchant for the traditional fur-trimmed red cape. Francis reportedly said, ‘Carnival time is over‘. I’m not so sure that Benedict intended his revivals of traditions as a circus but rather as reverence for papal history.

– Francis’s papal vestments for Mass are off-white with black and gold trim.  They looked very austere and depressing. The use of black is no doubt a nod to the Jesuits, whose colour is black. His pallium — a papal stole with a collar, to represent the Good Shepherd with a lamb around His neck — has a long black tip. The Black Pope?

This AFP graphic based on information from the Vatican illustrates the differences between Francis and Benedict with regard to their attire. N.B.: If there is a large gap after the image, please scroll down to continue reading the post. Apologies for the formatting problems!

Pope attire 2013 AFP photo_1363680589061-3-0

Before Mass, the cameras showed Francis going to visit St Peter’s tomb underneath the eponymous basilica. Afterward, on the steps of St Peter’s, he was presented with his aforementioned pallium, which was made by the Sisters of St Agnes, traditional weavers of this papal vestment.

After the pallium placement, Francis sat down and rubbed his nostris with his right thumb and forefinger. Errgh. He would go on to shake cardinals’ hands and celebrate the Mass using his right hand.

He next received his ‘recycled’ (the BBC’s words) papal ring.

Whereas the liturgical music used for Benedict’s first papal Mass was glorious, Francis’s sounded as if it was from the usual Vatican II Mass Catholics hear every week. The choirs sounded flat; the only singing ‘star’ was the soloist choirboy who sang between the first two readings. Well done, that lad!

By contrast, Benedict’s 2005 Mass was so uplifting that when I went to the supermarket later, one of the clerks — a Muslim lady — told me that she watched the whole Mass and was very moved by it. She said, ‘I was only going to watch a few minutes of it out of curiosity. Instead, I watched all of it before coming to work. It was beautiful. I was transfixed.’ I pray that God watches over her and brings her to life in Christ.

What follows are what I could derive from the Scripture passages, none of which had a clear specification. My apologies if I got these wrong vis à vis my notes.

The first reading featured verses from II Samuel 7, among them:

13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 

The second reading was taken from Romans 4:

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

The Gospel reading came from Matthew 1 and specifically concerned St Joseph as March 19 is his feast day — a public holiday in Rome:

19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Afterward, Pope Francis delivered his first Vatican homily. As it was the feast of St Joseph, he began by exhorting those in attendance to emulate his example. Francis spoke of Joseph’s obedience to God in his role as protector of Mary and Jesus. He added that this can be extended to the Church. Francis said that Joseph carried out this responsibility ‘discreetly’ and with humility, even when he found his duty ‘hard to understand’. Yet, Joseph was present in fidelity and ‘loving care’ through times good and bad. Francis emphasised that Joseph was open to God’s presence, not his own wishes.

That was a good message which spoke to everyone — the ordained, heads of state, Catholic religious and laity. It also gave an indication as to how Francis would exercise his responsibilities as Pope — discreetly and humbly.

Then, Francis discoursed on the Catholic responsibility to the world’s poor and urged heads of states and governments to ensure the poor had more. He banged home the message that we all had to DO SOMETHING about poverty.  Yet, Jesus Himself told us that poverty was intractable. Many non-Catholics press the Catholic Church to start selling off the Vatican’s ‘riches’. It is possible that Francis will consider this. Unfortunately, such a gesture would not cure poverty. The proceeds would be spent within a couple of hours and probably only buy every poor person one small meal.

His next action point was environmentalism: ‘We are called to protect all creation!’ This reminded me of the big Gaia movement in South America which revolves around the Earth mother, Pachamama, and has enticed left-wing governments and Catholic religious towards new rights for nature and Pantheism (a heresy, for those who don’t know).

Therefore, two-thirds of the homily was directed towards the developing world, particularly South America.

Francis’s homily was also an excellent example of nouvelle théologie, where dogma changes with the world. Benedict XVI also espoused this way of thinking, saying that the Church is communitarian and that we must avoid strict biblical interpretations which would fossilise the Church or place Christ in ‘yesterday’.

This is Modernism, which St Pius X — the last Pope to be canonised — declared a heresy in 1907 (read here, here and here).

Francis’s homily had no mention of Christ’s sacrifice for us on the Cross, no mention of God’s grace, no mention about spreading the Gospel — by which I mean the Good News, not wealth redistribution or environmentalism.

This is why I felt so queasy afterward. It was not helped when Archbishop Smith said (only somewhat paraphrased) of Francis’s redistribution and environmentalism:

That’s the Gospel we will be judged on now.

To which Joanna Moorhead added (again, only somewhat paraphrased):

The environment is a very unifying message for the Church.

You don’t have to be Catholic or Christian to be part of these movements. During Francis’s first weekend as Pope, the BBC broadcast Comic Relief, a charity effort featuring top British entertainers, while France’s TF1 showed the annual benefit concert by Les Enfoirés, a pop group whose proceeds go to the charitable organisation Les Restos du Coeur (Restaurants of the Heart), where the poor are guaranteed a hot meal, a kind word and a smile as often as they need it.

It would not surprise me if Francis really were the last Pope, although perhaps not in the apocalyptic ways which St Malachy imagined. Archbishop Smith and Eamon Duffy both said afterward that Francis would attempt to reform the Curia and decentralise the administrative authority, devolving it to bishops. The Archbishop reminded us that the first bishops in the Church were elected by their congregations.

More urgent than that, however, is their need for the Gospel. It matters not how many Masses Catholic clergy and the Pope celebrate. For them and for too many Catholics, Jesus Christ is but a backdrop, overshadowed by the world.

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