VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis had been pope for less than six
days when he was formally installed March 19, but he had
already made a distinctive and overwhelmingly favorable
impression on the world.
That is an especially remarkable accomplishment given that,
until his election, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio
had been practically unknown to the public outside his native
His abrupt change in style from the previous pontificate has
overwhelmingly charmed the press and the public. But among
the hierarchy, off-the-record sentiments seem to be more
mixed: admiration at the ease with which Pope Francis has
assumed his new role, alongside doubts that he can or should
keep up such an unconventional approach for long.
The new pope made an immediate impact with his extraordinary
gestures of humility: bowing and asking the crowd's blessing
on election night, paying his own hotel bill and eschewing
papal regalia such as red shoes and a gold pectoral cross;
and with his displays of spontaneity, such as straying from
prepared texts and stopping to greet the crowd on a Rome
Especially within the Vatican, there are surely many who
inwardly regret the clear signs that informality will be the
rule in this pontificate. After all, honors and decorations
are among the few worldly rewards legitimately available to
those in the hierarchy. More importantly, anyone who
understands the significance of appearances in Italian and
thus in Vatican culture understands that Pope Francis'
changes indicate a threat to something more vital than
Of the widely acknowledged priorities among the cardinal
electors in the run-up to the conclave that chose Pope
Francis, none was more prominent than the need to reform the
Roman Curia, the church's central administration. Sensational
leaks to the press in 2012 documented corruption and
mismanagement inside the Vatican, and in a speech during the
cardinals' pre-conclave meetings, then-Cardinal Bergoglio
himself is reported to have denounced the practice of
If the cardinals chose Pope Francis in part to play the role
of curial reformer, they ignored a common argument that an
Italian would be best prepared to deal with that largely
dysfunctional culture. But as he reminded the crowd attending
his first Angelus March 17, the new pope is of Italian
origin. Though Argentina is a Spanish-speaking country, in
other respects its culture owes as much to Italy as that of
any other European country. At least in terms of his
heritage, Pope Francis is obviously better prepared to
understand and oversee his new collaborators than his Polish
and German predecessors were.
As pastor of the universal church, a pope must consider how
his gestures, statements and decisions will be received by
the widest possible audience. Pope Francis' shows of humility
and accessibility plainly underscore his avowed desire that
the church be close to the poorest and least powerful, a
message he reinforced explicitly in the homily at his
To a more restricted and disproportionately powerful group of
spectators, the new pope's departures from Vatican protocol
also send another, no less revolutionary message: that he
knows what he thinks is right and will not hesitate to defy
precedent or the instructions of others to act accordingly.
With his fisherman's ring and the pallium - the main symbols
of the Petrine office - Pope Francis chose styles in
continuity with two of his predecessors.
The fisherman's ring Pope Francis chose is made of
gold-plated silver and is based on the same design of a papal
ring handed down from Pope Paul VI's personal secretary. It
shows an image of St. Peter holding the two keys - one key
represents the power in heaven and the other indicates the
spiritual authority of the papacy on earth.
The ring, which represents the pope's role as a "fisher of
men," was designed by a late-Italian artist, Enrico Manfrini,
who was very close to Pope Paul and his late-secretary,
Archbishop Pasquale Macchi.
Pope Francis had about three models of rings to choose from,
said the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi,
and the pope chose the design that Manfrini gave Archbishop
Macchi for Pope Paul. Pope Francis' ring was made from the
same wax cast of the ring meant for Pope Paul, who never wore
it, Father Lombardi said.
During the installation Mass March 19, Pope Francis received
the newly made ring from the dean of the College of
Cardinals, Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano.
The pallium Pope Francis received from French Cardinal
Jean-Louis Tauran during the Mass was the same one Pope
Benedict XVI used - a short woolen band that the retired pope
re-introduced in 2008, and similar to the kind worn by
Blessed John Paul II. It is worn over the shoulder and has a
12-inch long strip hanging down the front and the back.
The pallium is a woolen stole that signifies the pope's or
the archbishop's authority over the Christian community. It
also represents the shepherd's mission of placing the lost,
sick or weak sheep on his shoulders.
The pallium the pope wears is decorated with six red crosses
symbolizing the wounds inflicted on Christ during the
passion, Father Lombardi said. He said the crosses on
palliums for metropolitan archbishops are black to make clear
the diversity of jurisdiction.
The end piece, like all palliums, is made of black silk, a
symbol of the black sheep that the shepherd rescues and
carries over his shoulder back to the flock.