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Pope Emulates Francis’s Humility in Action Not Just Words

Pope Francis
Nuns on St Peter's square during the first mass by Pope Francis. Pope Francis celebrated his first mass as pontiff in the Sistine Chapel together with the cardinals who elected him the day before. Photographer: Johannes Eiselle/AFP/Getty Images via Bloomberg

March 14 (Bloomberg) -- Pope Francis is emulating the revered saint whose name he took in actions as well as words.

On his first outing as pope today, to Rome’s St. Mary Major basilica, the former cardinal known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio took his driver by surprise with an unexpected pit-stop request. He wanted to drop by his clerical hotel on Via della Scrofa to pick up his luggage -- and settle the bill.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York recounted yesterday how he and his red-hatted colleagues were milling around outside their Vatican residence after electing the new pope, waiting to greet His Holiness.

“As the last bus pulled up, guess who hops off? Pope Francis,” he told reporters at a Rome briefing. “I guess he told the driver, ‘That’s OK. I’ll just go with the guys.’”

These anecdotes -- the first told by Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, who like Bergoglio is a Jesuit -- are just a few examples of the humility and simplicity on display by the man picked to steer a scandal-plagued institution in a new direction and revive faith in Catholicism.

Following in the footsteps of his model in medieval Italy, who embraced poverty by stripping his clothes off and handing them to his father, this latter-day Francis is giving up 21st-century comforts. He’s already surprising his bodyguards with spontaneous requests and is wearing his old pectoral cross and a simple white cassock rather than the full papal regalia of his predecessor, Benedict XVI.

Modest Apartment

The portrait emerging of the 266th pope is that of a down-to-earth guy. He flew Alitalia SpA economy on the way to Rome and cooked his own meals in a modest flat in Buenos Aires, rather than being waited on by staff at the archbishop’s palace.

Eschewing a chauffeur, Bergoglio usually took the subway around the Argentine capital, though he prefers buses because he can see the streets, he said in “The Jesuit,” a 2010 book of interviews with him.

Bergoglio is well educated and disciplined, a quality associated with his order, and has diverse literary taste, according to the book. He loves Jose Luis Borges, his homeland’s master of genre-bending short stories, as well as Russia’s Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who wrote about a Christ-like man in “The Idiot.”

His favorite movie? “Babette’s Feast,” a 1987 Danish film based on a Karen Blixen story. It recounts the story of two austere, devoutly Christian spinsters transformed by the arrival of a French female chef in 19th-century Jutland.


This and more -- he had a girlfriend before he got his calling to the priesthood at 21 -- are narrated in his own words in the collection of interviews carried out by his biographer, Sergio Rubin.

Today, in his first sermon as pope, Francis rejected a text prepared for him by aides in Latin, instead choosing to speak off-the-cuff in Italian. Without its faith in Christ, “the church would just be a pitiful NGO,” or non-governmental organization, Francis said at the Vatican.

In 2005, he took part in the conclave that elected Benedict and where he allegedly came in second, according to Rubin’s book. With seemingly little thought as to what was to come, he was asked in “The Jesuit” what epitaph he’d liked etched on his gravestone.

“Jorge Bergoglio. Priest,” he said.

Now that he’s pope, there’s little evidence his attitudes have changed. Upon being elected, he emerged in the Sistine Chapel to greet the applauding College of Cardinals.

Tradition demands the new pope sit upon a throne as the cardinals kneel, professing their love and loyalty. Instead, Francis remained standing.

“I’m going to stay down here and greet each of my brothers,” he told the cardinals, according to the transcript of an interview Dolan gave to CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

To contact the reporter on this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson in United Nations at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at

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