On March 19, Pope Francis celebrated the Mass commemorating the beginning of his pontificate – the so-called Santa Messa Per L’Inizio Del Ministro Petrino Del Vescovo Di Roma. Afterwards, he received religious and political authorities inside St. Peter’s basilica, including a number of the world’s heads of state. Some details of the events follow.
Among the official delegations, Pope Francis welcomed Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Western Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, and Hindu leaders. In addition, he received various crowned heads of state, elected heads of state, heads of government, consorts of the heads of state, vice heads of state, vice-prime ministers, presidents of parliament, foreign ministers, heads of international organizations, governmental ministers, and ambassadors.
In advance of the Mass of Installation, Fr. Thomas Rosica, the English-language assistant to Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesperson, told CNN that the Vatican does not invite heads of state. Rather, “The Holy See never invites people to come to this [Mass of Installation], but they inform governments we have a new leader and I think many people will be coming and I’m sure many people from Latin America, South America will be coming as well.”
Argentinian and Italian leaders headed the delegations in ordine di precedenza – that is, in the order of precedence. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner held the highest place of precedence. The reigning sovereigns of Andorra, Belgium, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and the Order of Malta followed the Argentinians and the Italians. The United States of America occupied the 48th place in the order of precedence, after countries such as Mugabe’s Zimbabwe (#38) and Castro’s Cuba (#46). Israel (#63), Iran (#76), Iraq (#97), Pakistan (#101), Palestine (#102), and Afghanistan (#114) sent delegations, which followed the United States in the official order. That order included members of the Arab League and UNESCO, as well.
Both Taiwan (Republic of China) and Zimbabwe sent their presidents. Taiwan sent President Ying-Jeou and Zimbabwe sent President Robert Mugabe. The United States of America did not send President Obama. Its official delegation included Vice President Biden, Congresswoman Pelosi, and two others. In 2008, the then-Senator Joseph Biden became the first Roman Catholic to serve as Vice President of the United States of America.
I attended the Mass from above Bernini’s Colonnade, on the left side of St. Peter’s basilica. Throughout the Mass, I was stationed alongside Vice President Biden’s staffers and secret service detail. Some of his staffers told me that, “tonight, Vice President Biden is heading off to the Middle East … this was just another stop on that trip.” Perhaps, that comment indicates how the Obama administration viewed its attendance at this morning’s Mass of Installation. For much of the Mass, the staffers were glued to their smartphones, reading work-related e-mails and text messages. On the basis of pool coverage, Politico confirms that both Vice President Biden and Congresswoman Pelosi received the Eucharist.
In an official statement, Vice President Biden said that “I am happy to have the chance to personally relay my well wishes, and those of the American people, when I travel to Rome for [Pope Francis’] Inaugural Mass.” He added that “The Catholic Church plays an essential role in my life and the lives of more than a billion people in America and around the world, not just in matters of our faith, but in pursuit of peace and human dignity for all faiths.”
After the Laudes Regiae, Pope Francis received the papal pallium and the fisherman’s ring – the two liturgical insignias of the Supreme Pontiff. But before the initial rites of the Mass (or, Ritus Initiales), select cardinals offered Pope Francis their obedience. Cardinals from the order of bishops, priests, and deacons made obeisance to Pope Francis. Those from the order of cardinal bishops included Cardinals Giovanni Battista Re and Tarcisio Bertone; those from the order of cardinal priests included Cardinals Joachim Meisner and Jozef Tomko; and, those from the order of cardinal deacons included Cardinals Renato Raffaele Martino and Francesco Marchisano.
About half of the cardinals offering their obedience voted in the conclave that elected Pope Francis, the others did not. Going into that conclave, there was a lot of speculation about the election of an Italian cardinal to the Chair of St. Peter. The Europeans constituted the largest “voting bloc” within the conclave; and, the Italians made up the largest national group within that “voting bloc.” Four of the six cardinals offering obedience were Italian, including Re, Bertone, Martino, and Marchisano; one cardinal was German, Meisner; and, one cardinal was Slovak, Tomko. All of the cardinals offering obedience did so on behalf of the entire College of Cardinals. However, neither Northern nor Latin American cardinals were chosen to offer their obedience.
Concelebrants and other senior ecclesiastics participating in the morning’s Mass included the Patriarch of Coptic Alexandria, the Patriarch of Greek-Melkite Antioch, the Patriarch of Syrian Antioch, the Patriarch of Armenian Cilicia, the Patriarch of Chaldean Babylonia, the Major Archbishop of the Greek-Ukrainian Catholic Church, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Secretary of the Congregation for Bishops, the President of the Union of Superiors General, and the General Vice-President of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). For the first time since the Great Schism of 1054, an ecumenical patriarch – Bartholomew I – attended the installation of the Bishop of Rome. Deacon Valter Volochen from Rome’s Pontifical Greek College intoned the Gospel according to the Eastern liturgical manner.
The most moving part of the Mass was the Pope’s beautiful sermon on St. Joseph. Bishops of Rome are most often installed on the first Sunday after their election. Since the Second Vatican Council, no pope has been installed on another day of the week. But, Pope Francis chose to be installed mid-week and on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. St. Joseph is much beloved of the Italian and Hispanic people. In choosing to be installed on March 19, Pope Francis was signaling his pastoral closeness to the Italians. In his sermon, the Pope offered a robust theological understanding of the husband of Jesus’ Mother, an often neglected figure. A salient passage follows:
Today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus’ three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf.Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!
In accordance with Blessed Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis (n. 92), Pope Francis will take possession of the Patriarchal Archbasilica of the Lateran sometime after Easter in April.