Pope Francis’s first month in the Vatican City has been remarkable. While I agree with my fellow writer Kenny St. John’s cautious optimism in this matter, I have to admit that I have been sincerely impressed with the new pope. Not only breaking ground as the first Jesuit pope and the first from Latin America, Francis has also separated himself from several grandiose traditions of his predecessors.
Popes of the past have prayed for the faithful followers of the Church once they have been announced. Francis has amended the tradition and instead of wearing the elegant garb like that of Pope Benedict, he chose a toned-down robe while standing with the archbishops.
On a related note, Francis has decided to live in a much simpler two-room residence rather than in the ornate Papal Apartments. He also wears his own shoes, abandoning the stylish red shoes that had become a papal staple.
Aesthetics aside, what I personally find to be most admirable were Pope Francis' actions during the end of Lenten season. In the past, popes washed only the feet of their fellow archbishops. The tradition is meant to emulate the last act of humility that Jesus performed for his disciples before he was crucified. In a controversial move, Francis washed the feet of twelve prison inmates, including female and Muslim detainees. It was a great gesture of tolerant love and service.
Conservative Catholics are upset with Pope Francis, ironically enough, for following the footsteps of Jesus. They fear that his decision to wash the feet of women may be a sign of things to come—such as the inclusion of women in the priesthood.
What these conservative Catholics forget is Jesus’s own relationship with women and people of different religions. Jesus did not just travel around with twelve men. He traveled with women and according to the Bible, it was women who were greeted by the angel speaking of Jesus’ resurrection. In another story, Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman and asks for a drink of water. At the time, Jews and Samaritans were not supposed to interact with each other. Jesus thus breaks this taboo and even reveals to her that he is the Messiah.
The anger from conservatives towards Pope Francis' actions is disconcerting. The papacy is meant to carry on the tradition and teachings of Jesus, a mission Jesus directly gave to Peter. In the Bible, Jesus is not given red shoes, glamorous robes, a penthouse suite, or an ornate throne.
Jesus was born in a manger and worked as a carpenter prior to preaching the word of God. He lived among the poor and the sick—the outcasts of society. His parables spoke of love, compassion, and respect for others. Is this not what Pope Francis is doing?
Now, let me be clear, I am not totally aboard the Pope Francis train just yet. I find his stance on people who identify as LGBT to be sad and dated. But otherwise, I do like what I see. I appreciate his return to the core teachings of Jesus and, in his caring for the poor, the acknowledgement of his Jesuit roots.
Words and speeches do not always translate into actions. So far, however, Pope Francis’ actions speak just as loud as his words.