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In a new interview for Argentine daily La Nación, Pope Francis settles some quite determined rumours. We’ve heard some already, from either the Holy Father or various level-headed commentators. I want to highlight a few, which I think shed a new or valuable light on matters.
Pope Francis offers some criticism of how some people write, speak or think about him.
“In general people don´t read about what is going on. Somebody did say to me once, “Of course, of course. Insight is so good for us but we need clearer things”. And I answered, “Look, I wrote an encyclical, true enough, it was a big job, and an Apostolic Exhortation, I´m permanently making statements, giving homilies; that´s teaching. That´s what I think, not what the media say that I think. Check it out, it´s very clear. Evangelii Gaudium is very clear”.
I’ve said it about Pope Francis’ predecessor, but it is equally true (if sometimes a bit more difficult) of Pope Francis: want to know what the Pope said? Read the Pope, not the media.
About the reassignment of Cardinal Raymond Burke, considered by many to be the result of some disagreement with the Pope:
“One day Cardinal Burke asked me what he would be doing as he had still not been confirmed in his position, in the legal sector, but rather had been confirmed “donec alitur provideatur“. And I answered “Give me some time because we are thinking of a legal restructuring of the G9″. I told him nothing had been done about it yet and that it was being considered. After that the issue of the Order of Malta cropped up and we needed a smart American who would know how to get around and I thought of him for that position. I suggested this to him long before the synod. I said to him “This will take place after the synod because I want you to participate in the synod as Dicastery Head”. As the chaplain of Malta he wouldn´t have been able to be present. He thanked me in very good terms and accepted my offer, I even think he liked it. Because he is a man that gets around a lot, he does a lot of travelling and would surely be busy there. It is therefore not true that I removed him because of how he had behaved in the synod.”
And lastly, about Colonel Anrig, the commander of the Swiss Guard, who was recently dismissed:
“Last year, two months after my election, [Colonel Anrig’s] five year term expired. Then I told the Secretary of State – Pietro Parolin wasn’t there yet – that I could neither appoint him or dismiss him, because I didn’t know the man. So I decided to extend his mandate with the typical formula “donec alitur provideatur“, “until provided otherwise.” It seemed unfair to make a decision at that time, one way or the other. Then I learnt more about all that, I visited the barracks, I spent an afternoon with the Swiss Guards, I also stayed for dinner one evening, I got to know the people and I felt a renovation would be healthy. It was a mere renewal, because his term was over and it is healthy to know that nobody is eternal. So I talked to him and we agreed that he was leaving by the end of the year. He knew that since July.
It is a change, a normal change. He is an excellent person, a very good Catholic, a family man.
He is a good Christian, a believer, a very good man, I have an excellent relationship with him, so I talked with him face to face and said: “Look, I prefer a renewal”. There was is nothing unusual in it. There’s no fault in him, no blame.”
Rumours and gossip are appealing, because they present events that are more interesting and exciting, or suit our own understanding and wishes better. They are not, however, by definition, true, as these explanations by Pope Francis show. He is, after all, one who should know better than any of us what really happened.
I am reading lots of articles about the latest personnel change made by Pope Francis, although it really is the same text over and over. And it’s mostly rumour too…
Earlier this week the Holy See announced the dismissal of the commander of the Swiss Guard, Colonel Daniel Anrig. It was a short announcement, with no details given. Wat we do know, however, is that Colonel Anrig was already serving beyond his original mandate, so a dismissal would have been forthcoming anyway.
But that absence of facts did not stop some from collecting any and all rumours regarding the Swiss Guard and Pope Francis (or rather, the idea of Pope Francis that many still have). Colonel Anrig, they say, was fired for being very strict, for adhering to protocol, for basically being a military commander, and that, of course, does not sit will with the Holy Father, who is all about being nice and kind. After all, he did once shake hands with a Swiss Guard (something that Popes Benedict XVI and Saint John Paul II also did), and told a soldier on guard duty to sit down and eat the sandwich he made for him (or the cappuccino he bought, the rumours are unclear). And Colonel Anrig was the one who taught his soldiers discipline, gave them orders about their behaviour while on duty, and so the Colonel and the Pope clashed. And when the Pope clashes with someone, he fires them.
Well, that’s enough rumours for now. Anyone paying attention to what Pope Francis says knows that he is more than just kind and nice. He is not a stranger to strictness and sacrifice. And while he is known for spontaneous actions, these are often, in time, confirmed by the Holy See or other authorities. The rumours about the sandwich for the guard never has, just like the one about Pope Francis going out into the streets of Rome at night to feed the homeless. They are nice stories, but nothing more.
Pope Francis once warned against the evil of rumour and gossip, which comes from inside and is more destructive than any danger from outside. This is exactly that. A story is fabricated out of the rumours, wishes and distortions that have been floating around for a few years now.
Colonel Anrig was appointed commander of the Swiss Guard in 2008 and could often be seen accompanying the Pope and his entourage,not in his colourful ceremonial uniform but in a dark suit, providing security, which is the single and centuries-old task of the Swiss Guard. Pope Francis has been Pope for more than 18 months now, and will have been in contact with the Swiss Guard almost every single day. Being protected by them will no longer be a surprise for him, nor while the presence of guards outside his residence. The Swiss Guard is a military outfit, with military discipline. Much may be expected from its members, including discipline, protocol, endurance and the free will to give themselves to the protection of Church and Pope.
On his first full day as Pope emeritus Benedict XVI offered Mass, read in the books he brought with him and took a walk through the Castel Gandolfo gardens while praying the Rosary. The evening before, which capped an eventful day the likes of which the Church has never seen before, and most likely will not see for a long time, Benedict spent watching the news and reading some of the messages he received. Father Federico Lombardi told the assembled press this in what was the first of daily press briefings during the sede vacante.
Reading this today was actually rather comforting, because yesterday was quite eventful, even for one who watched the main events via the Vatican video player. As unlikely as it may sometimes seem, there was definitely a personal factor; it was less the departure of a high official, and more the passing of a beloved family member. While the morning meeting with the cardinals assembled in Rome (pictured above) was a very affectionate event, with quite a lot of smiles and laughter (standing out was the joke and the laugh that Cardinal Tagle seemingly shared with the Holy Father), the afternoon was totally different.
The tone was set with the first appearance of the Pope on the screen, bidding his farewells to the vicars general of his diocese, Cardinals Vallini and Comastri. Neither kept a dry eye, and especially touching I found Cardinal Vallini briefly squeezing Archbishop Gänswein’s hand as a sign of support. The latter subsequently had to employ a tissue to dry his eyes as well.
And then, after the fifteen-minute helicopter flight to Castel Gandolfo, there was the epilogue to almost eight years of Benedict XVI, and it was as simple and to the point as the Pope emeritus himself.
Thank you all!
Dear friends, I am happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of Creation and your affection that does me much good. Thank you for your friendship, your love, [applause] …
You know that this day for me is different from previous ones: I am no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church: until eight in the evening I will be still, and then no longer. I am simply a pilgrim who begins the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth.
But I wish still [applause – thank you!] … but I wish still with my heart, my love, my prayer, my reflection, with all my inner strength, to work for the common good and the good of the Church and of humanity. And I feel very much supported by your affection.
Let’s go forward with the Lord for the good of the Church and the world.
Thank you, I give you now [applause] … with all my heart, my blessing.
Thank you, good night! Thank you all!”
And so, a final two-handed wave (not unlike, as some have noted, that first gesture we saw back in April of 2005), and the Pope returned inside. And then, less than three hours later, it was over. The doors closed, the Swiss Guards returned to their barracks, and the sede vacante began.
It was a farewell: we have seen our last of Benedict. But it’s not a farewell: he is still there with us, not in plain sight, but as close as ever in prayer and in the unity of the Holy Spirit. So, while we mourn a loss, we have also gained something. But it will take some getting used too, that much is certain.
And here we go… Today we enter the last two days of the 265th papacy. As Benedict undoubtedly looks forward to starting the twilight years of his service to the Church, in St. Peter’s Square, the crowds have been lining up since the early hours of the morning to get their final glimpse of our Holy Father.
Set to begin at 10:30 local time, Pope Benedict XVI’s final general audience promises to be only a slight departure from the norm. The Holy Father will teach one last time, but we’ll have to wait and see what his choice of topic will be. He will take an extra long tour across the square before returning to the Apostolic Palace, where he will meet with some of the dignitaries who have travelled to Rome today. There will be no brief meetings with visiting prelates and pilgrim groups at the end of the audience this time around.
And at the same time this will be like no other general audience before. It will be a historical event: an abdicating Pope bidding farewell to his flock – present in the tens of thousands in Rome, and in the hundreds of millions across the globe. And without doubt it will be emotional. Unavoidable distant in space, the Holy Father is still close in the hearts of many, not least mine.
Sure, we will see him in images and video tomorrow, as he bids his farewells to the cardinals and the Curia, with Cardinal Bertone seeing him off from the Vatican, and Cardinal Sodano greeting him one last time on the helicopter pad at 5pm tomorrow afternoon. Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, the Governor of the Vatican City State, will welcome the Pope at Castel Gandolfo. Appearing on the balcony of the traditional papal summer residence, we will what now seems to be our last glimpse of the Pope, hours before he becomes Pope Emeritus. at 8pm. At that point the Swiss Guards will salute and depart – tasked as they are with the protection of the Roman Pontiff, and tomorrow evening there will be no such person…
And after that rollercoaster ride the next will probably stand ready on Monday, as the cardinals will start their General Congregations in preparation of the conclave.
Photo credit: Looking more tired than we have seen him before, Pope Benedict XVI sits before his last Angelus prayer on Sunday [l’Osservatore Romano].