Some exciting news to come from the Vatican: the pope invited the homeless over for lunch. Yes, amidst the opulence that is the Vatican, the bishop of Rome had opened his doors to over 200 of Rome’s homeless residents. Recognizing the solidarity of Christians with the poorest among us, he sat down to a shared meal at a table shared with a Muslim and an immigrant from China. Of course, religious (ahem) Vatican watchers weren’t surprised by Pope Benedict’s luncheon with the homeless, since he had visited a Roman soup kitchen not long before.
Wait a minute. Pope Benedict? Did you maybe think you were reading about a certain Pope Francis hosting a similar event this week? Because you might have read about his own invitation to the homeless, and a lunch hosted by a Vatican cardinal in his name:
On July 1 Pope Francis invited a group of 200 homeless individuals to dinner at the Vatican, where they were served in his name by Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello.
Cardinal Bertello, president of the Governatorate of the Vatican City State, spent the entire evening with the special guests, with whom he chatted at length and shared personal experiences, according to the July 3 edition of L’Osservatore Romano.
And this time, I can’t help but notice a strong, positive response to the latest move from Papa Bergoglio, which has left social media all a-twitter (pun intended), even though he didn’t personally attend the luncheon.
Pope Francis invites 200 homeless individuals to dine at Vatican. "This is your home," says Cardinal in Pope's name. http://t.co/VOetVTO9WV
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) July 9, 2013
It seems to be just the latest indication that the Catholic Church is awakening and reinvigorating under the leadership of this humble man from Argentina who never wanted to be pope in the first place. And yet, in this case, he’s certainly following in the well worn footsteps of his predecessors, including both John Paul II and Benedict XVI:
Nonetheless, Pope Francis really seems to to inspire an excitement that hasn’t been experienced in recent years, among believers and non-believers alike. I definitely share in this excitement. I’m curious about why that is, though. Do we really just have such a short memory that it seems like Francis doing something entirely novel? Had Vatican politics just become so bogged down with scandal that these important acts of outreach got drowned out?
My own sense is it that Pope Francis really just brings a simpler, more approachable style to his position than his predecessors, and that lends a dose of freshness to whatever he does. As beautiful and inspiring as the artistry of papal accoutrements may be, I can’t help but think that for some observers they can too easily become a distraction, especially for some of the people the Church is trying to reach. They can make it harder to emphasize that simpler actions, like lunch with the poor, really are centrally important to the message we’re trying to live out as a Church.
Still, regardless of why people are paying more attention to Francis, it seems like they are. And if people see things like this and become inspired to imitate the example, then I’m glad to see it generate so much excitement.