ROME — This summer, the Vatican is finding out what it’s like to have a pope in residence during the hottest weeks of the year, which, for Francis, seems to include visiting workers and planning for the fall.
On Aug. 9, Pope Francis paid a surprise visit to the area of Vatican City known as the industrial area for the small city state that involves a power plant, carpentry shop, warehouse, metal-working shop and the offices of the newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, among other things.
He arrived shortly after 9am, greeting each worker with "buongiorno” (good morning) and a smile, according to the Vatican’s newspaper.
Then he asked how the work is done, how the machines function and how many people are working there, before moving on.
As he walked along the cobblestone street that leads through the area, the Pope waved to journalists from L’Osservatore Romano, who were leaning out of their office windows and applauding to welcome him.
On Aug. 6, the 35th anniversary of the death of Pope Paul VI, Pope Francis decided that he would go down into the crypt below St. Peter’s Basilica and pray silently in front of his predecessor’s tomb.
Above, on the main floor of the Vatican basilica a few hours later, Bishop Francesco Beschi of Brescia, the hometown of Paul VI, celebrated a Mass in remembrance of Francis’ predecessor, with a group of pilgrims from his Diocese of Bergamo, Italy.
According to L’Osservatore Romano, those pilgrims really wanted to meet Pope Francis, and once he heard about it, he met them in front of St. Martha’s House, just after 6pm.
“Thank you so much for this visit. It is lovely, and it gives me great pleasure,” he told the group, according to the Vatican paper.
These spontaneous visits by the Holy Father seem to be part of how he is filling his schedule during a time when previous popes headed to the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo or enjoyed the cooler temperatures in the mountains.
But aside from that, a source who is close to a member of the pontifical household and asked for anonymity told Catholic News Agency Aug. 5 that Pope Francis wants to begin visiting the parishes of his diocese and that a schedule is in the works.
“Pope Francis wants to keep on going to the ‘peripheries’ of the town he is bishop of, and probably there will be a schedule of papal visits to the parishes by next fall,” the source said.
Pope John Paul II made his visits to Rome’s parishes one of the milestones of his pontificate. By the time his 26-year papacy ended, he was able to visit 301 out of the 333 parishes in the diocese.
Pope Benedict XVI also traveled to the parishes, visiting one during Advent and another during Lent.
Pope Francis is also thinking about how to revamp the administration of the Catholic Church, a task that he was handed by the cardinals when they elected him this past March.
In particular, he is focusing on his Oct. 1-3 meeting with the group of eight cardinals from around the world that he selected to advise him on carrying out the reform.
A source who also requested anonymity and is close to a cardinal in the Congregation for Bishops told CNA July 28 that Pope Francis is trying to change the Curia’s mentality.
This behavior is justified by the fact that “many things were hidden from the Pope [Benedict XVI] by the middle ranks of the Roman Curia, and Pope Francis wants to have a clear understanding of what is going on,” the source explained.
While all these moves are taking place behind the scenes, it appears that the Pope will continue to make surprise visits and enjoy August in the Vatican, a time when many people escape the sweltering heat of the city and head to the sea for vacation.
Andrea Gagliarducci contributed to this article, with reporting from Rome.