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Words and gestures

For the first time a Bishop of Rome from “almost the ends of the earth” celebrated the Feast of the Patrons of this city, Sts Peter and Paul. The liturgical Memorial was an occasion for him to reflect on the meaning of the mission of the one called to succeed the First of the Apostles, in a most expressive ecumenical context. Present were the Lutheran Choir of the Thomaskirche of Leipzig, Bach’s church, as well as a Delegation from the Church of Constantinople. The presence of the latter falls within the by now ten-year-old happy exchange between the “Sister” Churches. And it was highlighted in an unexpected and moving way by Pope Francis when, before the Angelus, he asked the faithful to say a Hail Mary with him for Patriarch Bartholomaios.

This simple and authentically Christian act exemplifies this Pontiff's style. Many moments throughout this week have cast light on his gestures and his way of communicating, brief and effective. Actions are understandable to everyone, like his decision, more powerful than any word, to make the first Journey of his Pontificate to the Island of Lampedusa, the southern most point of Italy, where thousands of migrants land — people forced to flee from misery, violence and ignoble greed. Meanwhile, his way of communicating has grabbed the attention not only of Catholics, thanks especially to his homilies in the Santa Marta Chapel: in content, his preaching is consistent with that of his Predecessors, but with a new form that is synthetic, concentrated, demanding and often tripartite.

Such was his homily on the Feast of the Patrons of Rome. The Successor of Peter asked himself what it means to confirm in faith, in love and in unity and gave three answers: evoking once again the danger of “thinking in worldly terms”, recalling the need for witness (the “fight of martyrdom”) and ultimately speaking about the meaning of the Primacy of the Roman Church in harmony with the Synod of Bishops. The new body was instituted by Paul VI shortly before the close of the Second Vatican Council and in half a century it has clearly contributed to the development of a fundamental dimension of Christian life: “We must go forward on the path of synodality, and grow in harmony with the service of the primacy”, Pope Francis affirmed. In short, he explained, we need to be “united despite our differences: there is no other Catholic way to be united. This is the Catholic spirit, the Christian spirit”.

And Pope Francis offered a Christian example — a surprise and with clear words — when at Sunday’s Angelus he spoke about the conscience as “the interior place for listening to the truth”, the only place of freedom. Benedict XVI was “a marvellous example of what this relationship with God is like” when he took the step “with a great sense of discernment and courage”, his Successor said. “And this example of our father does such good to us all, as an example to follow”.

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St. Peter’s Square

Aug. 25, 2019

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