It is four years on Monday since the election of a radical Argentinian bishop to the throne of St Peter. How far have his reforms progressed and what more does he hope to achieve?
Pope Francis was being driven through St Peter’s Square when he spotted a group enthusiastically waving the Argentinian flag. Ordering the popemobile to stop, he chatted to his fellow countrymen and took some sips from the traditional cup of maté tea that they offered him. Afterwards, his security officials told him this was not a very good idea. The Pope laughed, saying: “What harm could come from them? They are a group of pilgrims from Argentina, not cardinals from Rome.”
I’ve heard this story from several sources but have not been able to verify it. Still, you can see why it’s so frequently told. It speaks symbolically to the legend of Francis: the pope from a far-off place, warming to the poor folk he calls “the holy faithful people of God”, momentarily able to lower his guard in a place where he is surrounded by political machination. As one of his oldest friends said to him on the phone from Buenos Aires: “Be careful, the Borgias are still there in the Vatican.”
In his recent interview with the Spanish daily El País, Francis was asked: “Your Holiness, after nearly four years in the Vatican, what is left of that street priest that came from Buenos Aires to Rome with the return ticket in his pocket?” Francis replied: “He is still a street priest. Because, as soon as I can go out on the streets to greet people at the general audiences, or when I am travelling … my character has not changed … My street soul is alive, and you can see it.”