Ducking in a side entrance, Pope Francis I made his first public appearance Thursday at Santa Maria Maggiore. A handful of well wishes waited to greet the new pontiff.
There are a thousand churches in Rome, but the pontiff chose this one. Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo told Local 2’s Bill Balleza that there was a reason Pope Francis selected that particular church.
“He’s the head of the universal church, but he’s also the Bishop of Rome as of last night. And he certainly wants to remind the people of Rome that he’s their bishop,” said DiNardo.
Houston’s cardinal hasn’t slowed down either since the election of the pope. Now that the cardinals selected their new pope, DiNardo and the other cardinals were set to meet with him at the Vatican and also celebrate Mass in the Sistine Chapel on Thursday.
DiNardo believes the cardinals made the right selection and wanted Houstonians to know what kind of man he helped to select.
“I think that his own way of life in Buenos Aires was to take the bus, when necessary to cook for himself, to live in an apartment with a retired auxiliary bishop rather than to live in the big bishops’ residence next door to the Cathedral. And I think he’s trying to walk the walk as we say. If the Church is open to all, but is of special concern to the poor, I think that he will manifest that in his vision for the (Catholic) Church,” said DiNardo.
The simple Jesuit from Argentina, living in a small apartment and riding the public bus, now has his humble lifestyle is on display throughout Rome.
“I think they are all going to be in shock. This may not be a man who wants to wear silk and furs,” said Father Thomas Reese, analyst, National Catholic Reporters.
On Wednesday night, after greeting the crowd, a spokesman said Pope Francis skipped the Papal limousine and took the bus. He went back to his hotel to pick up his bags and pay his bill.
“He was concerned about giving a good example in what priests and bishops should do,” said Father Thomas Roica, a spokesman for the Vatican.
But style aside, huge problems lie ahead for the new pontiff: Dealing with the sexual abuse crisis that has plagued the Catholic Church, corruption, a decline in membership and reforming the Vatican.
The people here are now his people – 1.2 billion Catholics look to their new pope for answers and inspiration.
DiNardo will stay in Rome until the installation of Pope Francis I on Tuesday, March 19. He’ll return to Houston the very next day. He said he is anxious to get back to start Easter week with Catholics in Houston.