So what happens next for Pope Francis?


Peter Popham
Wednesday 13 March 2013 22:22
Pope Francis waves the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica
Pope Francis waves the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica

Having begun his reign, auspiciously enough, with a self-deprecating joke – “the duty of the cardinals is to elect a Bishop of Rome,” he deadpanned, “and they’ve gone to the end of the world to find one” – Pope Francis went back inside St Peter’s for the solemn ceremonies that conclude the Conclave process, the most important of which is a Mass in the Sistine Chapel with the other 114 cardinal electors.

Before emerging on the balcony to greet the crowd he had already been outfitted in white vestments of approximately the right dimensions – they come in S, M and L – but in the coming days Vatican-based tailors and cobblers will measure him up for the baffling array of ceremonious garments with which a pontiff needs to be equipped.

He will be granted a few hours if not days to deal with his personal needs and private obligations. His immediate predecessor had lived in Rome for decades, and after being elected returned to his old apartment to deal with his books and other belongings, and bid farewell to his colleagues at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. For the ex-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, however, all that will be more complicated. With Holy Week, the busiest week of the year for a pope, just around the corner, it is unlikely he will have the leisure to fly home to sort out his affairs in Argentina before Easter.

Instead he will be plunged into the practical realities of being Pontiff. He will move into the papal apartments vacated by Benedict XVI, first giving instructions for any changes he may desire. Benedict had the apartment redecorated and modernised, removing something of the mood of austerity and simplicity preferred by John Paul II. Francis, who as Archbishop chose to live in a simple flat rather than move into the Archbishop’s palace, may well move in the opposite direction, though he will not be given any choice about his residence. He will also have to give urgent thought about who to choose as his Secretary of State, the most powerful position in the Vatican after the pope himself. It is widely accepted that Benedict made a crucial error in appointing Tarcisio Bertone to the job, a man with few linguistic or diplomatic skills. Francis may be stuck with Bertone for a time, as Ratzinger was stuck with the incumbent Secretary, Angelo Sodano. But putting the right person in the job will be a priority.

As Benedict did in 2005, Francis may take an hour or two to meet and greet the Rome-based media, but if he agrees to take questions it would be a first. Then almost before he is settled, he will have to get to grips with the pontiff’s weekly schedule: his first appearance at the window of his apartment to greet the crowd at midday on Sunday, his first Wednesday papal audience in St Peter’s, then the start of the hectic Holy Week round of masses and other ceremonies, culminating with Easter Sunday on 31 March.

At some point before that, as Bishop of Rome, he will also visit the cathedral of Rome, St John in Lateran, where he will be formally installed as the city’s bishop, the concluding ceremony at the beginning of a new pontificate. A novel challenge for the Vatican’s bureaucrats will be the question of if and when and where he will have his first encounter with the Pope Emeritus – the man to whom it is said that he lost the race to become pope in 2005. That will present protocol issues to daunt even the slickest Vatican insider.

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