May 20, 2013
De urbi ad orbem
Now that the ceremonial is finally over (with the pomp and circumstance minimized by an austere pontiff beyond the celestial music), the deeper meaning of the new papacy should be pondered. The most evident conclusion is that change is in the air, already starting with the best term to describe yesterday’s ceremony — to speak of a papal “coronation” or “enthronement” seems too monarchical now that Benedict XVI’s exit has effectively ended the lifelong nature of the office while “inauguration” or “installation” sound too republican for somebody who remains an absolute ruler.
Speculating about future change swamps this space so we will focus on one question of particular interest to this country — how much longer will Francis continue being an Argentine pope? Until now Pope Francis has been doing a pretty good imitation of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio. True to his Argentine roots, he not only made President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner his first official audience but also gave her a long lunch way beyond perfunctory greetings — now he is making a priestly victim of Argentina’s 1976-83 military dictatorship his first candidate for beatification (perhaps an oblique response to critiques of his own record during that period). And yet, contrary to some expectations, the vision of the new spiritual leader of 1.2 billion people must surely extend beyond turning the 300 Catholics of the Malvinas into his compatriots. Even in narrow national terms, a pontiff named after an Umbrian saint, with a Piedmontese father, residing in the Vatican and now mostly speaking Italian perhaps should not be wholly identified with his native city. At regional level, some hopes have been placed in Francis picking up from where Cardinal Bergoglio left off in Argentina to chide other populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, etc. but the new pontiff might well see social injustice in Latin America as the bigger issue — here in Argentina the opposition needs to resist the illusion that it has a new leader, assuming its responsibilities. But even the “greater fatherland” falls short — we cannot repeat often enough that his mission is now the world (although also a much smaller microcosm than this nation or region because if charity begins at home, so do the challenges of reform in the Vatican). Among so many other things, Pope Francis is now a big boy who must be allowed to leave home.
And yet despite the colossal dimensions of the papacy, this extremely humble man might well be inclined to quote Marcus Aurelius: “As Emperor of Rome, I am limited by the frontiers of my domain — as a human being, I belong to the universe.”