"Let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world!"
With this emphasis on caring for and protecting one another and creation, Pope Francis officially began his Petrine ministry March 19 in the presence of up to 200,000 pilgrims who had gathered for Mass in a chilly, blustery-but-sunny St. Peter’s Square.
He began his homily by expressing the faithful’s closeness to Benedict XVI, "with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude," and noting that it was the Solemnity of St. Joseph — "a significant coincidence," given Benedict’s baptismal name is Joseph.
The mission God entrusted to St. Joseph, Pope Francis said, was to be "custos, the protector" of Mary, Jesus and the Church. He exercised that role, Francis said, "discreetly, humbly and silently" and always "with loving care." And he did so, he added, "by being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own."
Joseph is a "protector," he went on to explain, because he is "able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will"; and for this reason, "he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping."
"He can look at things realistically; he is in touch with his surroundings; he can make truly wise decisions," Pope Francis said, adding that we see in Joseph "the core of the Christian vocation," which is to "protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation."
But he stressed that this vocation is not limited to Christians: It is simply a "human dimension," involving everyone. "It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live," he said. "It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about."
This protection means "building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect and goodness," he continued, and he implored the faithful to be "protectors of God’s gifts!"
He told the crowd — who included world leaders such as Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and 31 heads of government — that whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility "the way is opened to destruction, and hearts are hardened." Tragically, he said, "in every period of history there are ‘Herods’ who plot death, wreak havoc and mar the countenance of men and women."
The Holy Father also called on each person to keep watch over his or her emotions and heart and to "not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!" Indeed, he stressed, caring and protecting "demands goodness" and "calls for a certain tenderness."
St. Joseph, he noted, is a "strong and courageous man, a working man; yet, in his heart, we see great tenderness" — a sign of strength of spirit and "a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love."
The Pope also explained how the power bestowed by Jesus on Peter and his successors is one of service.
"Authentic power is service," he said, and, when exercising power, one must "enter ever more fully into that service, which has its radiant culmination on the cross." It is a "lowly, concrete and faithful service," he added, that must "protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important."
Only those who serve with love are able to protect, the Pope said. He also noted that, amid so much darkness today, there is a need "to be men and women who bring hope to others," a hope that is "built on the rock which is God."
The service of the Bishop of Rome, and that of each person, he concluded, is "to protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves." Emphasized the Pope: "Let us protect with love all that God has given us!"
Pope Francis closed by imploring the intercession of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, Sts. Peter and Paul and St. Francis, so that the Holy Spirit will accompany him in his ministry. And, as he has frequently done since his election, he made a point of asking all the faithful to pray for him.
The inauguration began with Pope Francis taking his first ride in the popemobile, during which he was greeted with loud cheers as he slipped into St. Peter’s Square shortly before 9am. As he passed onlookers, he kissed babies and even descended from the open-top jeep to bless a man with a physical disability.
He then entered St. Peter’s Basilica, while trumpets announced the "Tu es Petrus," and venerated the tomb of St. Peter, together with the patriarchs and major archbishops of the Eastern-rite Catholic Churches. The Pope was then presented with the papal pallium, ring and Book of the Gospels, which were placed at St. Peter’s tomb the night before, before processing back into the square.
There, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the protodeacon, placed the pallium on the Pope’s shoulders, a prayer was recited by Cardinal Godfried Daneels, protopresbyter, and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, presented the Pope’s "Fisherman’s Ring." Six cardinals each then made a symbolic act of obedience on behalf of all the other cardinals.
Latino Catholics in attendance were particularly excited about the inauguration ceremony.
"Today, everyone feels Argentinian, or at least us Latin Americans do," Peruvian priest Father Jose Tola told CNA.
Speaking to the Register after the Mass, American Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, archbishop emeritus of Baltimore and grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, said he thought the Mass "was very dignified, appropriate in every way," and he "greatly valued the Pope’s words."
"Everything he says is almost a commentary on St. John," he said.
Benjamin Harnwell, director of the Rome-based Dignitatis Humanae Institute, drew attention to the Pope’s description of St. Joseph being "constantly attentive" to God. "I think this ‘attentiveness’ will be the watchword of his pontificate — and the injunction not to be afraid of tenderness," Harnwell said.
Recalling the many invitations to pray for a pope whom the faithful need rather than deserve, Harnwell said that, "for me at least, I think it is clear that God heard, and answered, our request" with Pope Francis.
Holy Father To Make Trip Home?
Francis Mulls Visit To Argentina on His WYD Trip in July
Pope Francis may be visiting more than just Rio de Janeiro when he travels to the Brazilian city for World Youth Day in July.
Vatican officials are currently mulling the possibility of a stop in the Pope’s native Argentina on the same trip, partly in a bid to ease possibly significant logistical challenges.
The Holy Father confirmed via Twitter March 24 that he would be traveling to Rio. Before stepping down, Benedict XVI had intended to attend the event that was expected to attract as many as 2.5 million attendees.
But now, with the Church’s first Latin-American pope, Brazilian civil and Church authorities have revised those estimates, placing the number of estimated visitors at 3.5 million or more.
Vatican sources say 1 million Argentines alone may now travel to Brazil if the Pope doesn’t visit Buenos Aires. Brazil’s organizing officials have been urging the Vatican to add the Argentine capital onto the Pope’s itinerary for the July trip, thereby, they hope, persuading large numbers of Argentines to refrain from traveling the short distance to Rio.
Brazilian officials have become increasingly anxious about their capacity to handle the influx of millions of visitors already. The proposed venue for the July 23-28 event will be held some distance south of the city in an open field. Organizers are hoping a music concert, organized right after the Church event, will keep many of the young faithful at the venue, thereby allowing a smooth and more orderly winding down of the massive gathering.
The theme for WYD Rio 2013 is taken after Jesus’ command, "Go and make disciples of all peoples." The official program will be announced in late April.
For the Pope’s part, Vatican sources say he is concerned about returning to Argentina too quickly. Both he and Church officials are also said to be concerned that his visit would interfere with Argentine elections, which are slated for the fall.
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner invited the Pope to visit Argentina when they met privately in Rome in March. The Holy Father said his calendar was full during the dates she suggested, but that he would try to make time. As cardinal, Pope Francis had a number of significant disputes with the president and her government.
For a pope to visit his native country so soon after being elected would not be unusual. In 2005, Benedict XVI attended World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, just five months after his election. And John Paul II first visited his native Poland in July 1979, nine months after he became pope. The visit was believed to have been historic, leading to the Solidarity movement.
Several activities have already been planned for Pope Francis in Brazil, including a visit to a favela (shanty town) and meetings with bishops and other groups.
Organizers are also looking at the possibility that the Pope will visit other Brazilian cities during his trip, such as Aparecida, where the nation’s shrine to the Virgin Mary is located.
— Edward Pentin