by Joey Villarama
It took two days and five ballots before the Papal conclave finally chose the worldwide Catholic Church’s new Pope. Suspense enveloped St. Peter’s square as the entire world waited to see the new church leader. When his name was finally announced, it came as a surprise to many.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio did not figure prominently in the top 12, 6 or 3 lists in the media. It had always been a toss up among the Italian Scola, the Brazilian Scherer, and the Canadian Oullet. With little to work on, I had to take a few calculated risks in talking about Bergoglio.
This much I knew about him: he was Argentinian, he is a Jesuit, he was the alleged runner up to Benedict XVI, and he took public transportation around his archdiocese.
“Was he archbishop or archbishop emeritus of Buenos Aires? Did he take the bus or train?” I struggled.
Francis. Bakit Francis? Although I knew there was a Jesuit saint by the name of Francis (Xavier), it never crossed my mind that Bergoglio would choose Xavier. Siguro Francis dahil kay St. Francis of Assisi — the man who gave up his riches and lived a life of self-mortification, the saint who loved the poor.
This Pope will stand for poverty. This was the message he wanted to convey.
But that thought also sent a chill down my spine because I immediately recalled the last few scenes of my favorite movie, The Shoes of the Fisherman, starring Anthony Quinn. In the movie, Quinn, who played Kiril I, the newly-elected Russian Pope, pledged all the wealth of the Church during his coronation address to feed the world’s hungry to avert World War III. Is this what Pope Francis is intending to do? But it was still too early to tell.
Finally, there was movement in the central balcony: the white curtain was parted and the glass doors were opened. A processional cross guided the entourage of Masters of Ceremonies, Bishops, Cardinals, and then finally…the new Pope.
When Pope Francis finally emerged, the crowd went wild. From where I was, I could only see a white dot in the middle of the balcony even if I was relatively closer to most everyone in the Square. I then turned to my “interpreter” and asked, “Is he wearing only white?”
Probably irked at my persistent questions, he said “Yes, Popes wear white.”
Nasupalpal ba ako? Was it a stupid question? No it wasn’t, although the seminarian may have thought that.
Why did I ask that question?
For one, Popes, upon their election, usually come out in full papal regalia. Aside from the white cassock (the papal “uniform”), the new Pope wears a lacy white tunic or rochet on top of it. The Pope also has a buttoned up elbow length red cape or mozzetta, a pectoral cross hanging from a gold cord, and a red brocade stole, usually with the images of Sts. Peter and Paul embroidered on it. But Pope Francis chose to wear a plain white cassock and only put on the stole as he blessed the “city and the world.” Indeed, he was wearing only white. Bowing down, he also asked for prayers from the gathered crowd and from the world, a rare gesture from someone who should be blessing the world.
I would find out hours later, after I got back to my hotel room and turned on the TV to watch commentary on the election, that the changes I initially observed were not merely coincidental. Indeed, the wearing of white, the bowing, the removal of the platform that will make him seem higher and taller than everyone else in the loggia, all these were not trivial messages but a laying down of the agenda of how this man intends to reshape the Church and the world.
This man will stand for simplicity. This was the message he wanted to convey. But how will the public receive this statement?