Remembering the four-year anniversary of Pope Francis’ election as the Pope this week, we bring you from our archives a translation of the address Pope Francis gave to the cardinals in the Vatican on March 15, 2013, two days after his election:
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This time dedicated to the Conclave has been full of meaning not only for the College of Cardinals, but also for all the faithful. In these days we have felt almost physically the affection and solidarity of the universal Church, as well as the attention of many people who, despite not sharing our faith, look with respect and admiration to the Church and the Holy See. From every corner of the Earth, a fervent and choral prayer of the Christian people was raised up for the new Pope, and my first encounter with the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s square was full of emotion. With that evocative image of prayerful and joyful people still etched in my mind, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the bishops, priests, consecrated persons, young people, families and the elderly for their spiritual closeness, so touching and fervent.
I feel the need to express my most vivid and deep gratitude to all of you, venerable and dear brother Cardinals, for the solicitous collaboration in guiding the Church during the Vacant See. I address a cordial greeting to each of you, beginning with the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, whom I thank for his expressions of devotion and for the fervent well-wishes he addressed to me in your name. With him I would like to thank the Lord Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church, for his thoughtful work in this delicate transitional phase, and also the most dear Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who was our leader in the Conclave, many thanks! My thoughts go with particular affection to the venerable Cardinals who, due to age or disease, assured us of their participation and their love for the Church through the offering of suffering and prayer. And allow me to tell you that the day before yesterday, Cardinal Mejia had a heart attack: he has been hospitalized at Pius XI. But it seems his health is stable, and he has sent us his regards.
Also deserving of my gratitude are those who, in various roles, have worked actively in preparing and carrying out the Conclave, ensuring the safety and tranquillity of the Cardinals in this period that is so important for the life of the Church.
With great affection and profound gratitude, my thought goes also to my venerable predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who during these years of his Pontificate has enriched and invigorated the Church with his teachings, his kindness, his leadership, his faith, his humility and his meekness. They will remain a spiritual heritage for everyone! The Petrine ministry, lived with total dedication, had in him a skillful and humble interpreter, whose gaze was always fixed on Christ, the risen Christ, present and alive in the Eucharist. Our fervent prayers will accompany him always, as will our ceaseless remembrance and our undying and affectionate gratitude. We feel that Benedict XVI has lit a flame in the depths of our hearts: it will continue to blaze because it will be fueled by his prayer, which will support the Church on her spiritual and missionary journey.
Dear brother Cardinals, our meeting is meant to be somewhat of an extension of the intense ecclesial communion experienced during this period. Animated by a deep sense of responsibility and supported by a great love for Christ and for the Church, we have prayed together, fraternally sharing our feelings, our experiences and reflections. In this climate of great cordiality, our reciprocal knowledge and mutual opening were thus increased; and this is good, because we are brothers. Someone told me: the Cardinals are the Holy Father’s priests. That community, that friendship, that closeness will do us all good. And this knowledge and this mutual opening have facilitated our docility to the action of the Holy Spirit. He, the Paraclete, is the Supreme protagonist of every initiative and expression of faith. This is strange, it makes me think: the Paraclete accounts for all the differences in the churches, and seems to be an apostle of Babel. But on the other hand, He is the One who creates unity from these differences, not in “equality”, but in harmony. I recall that Church Father who described Him thus: “Ipse harmonia est”. The Paraclete who gives each of us different charisms, unites us in this community of the Church, that worships the Father, Son and Him, the Holy Spirit.
Starting right from the authentic collegial affection that joins the College of Cardinals, I express my willingness to serve the Gospel with renewed love, helping the Church to become more and more in Christ and with Christ, the fruitful vine of the Lord. Stimulated also by the celebration of the Year of Faith, all together, Shepherds and faithful, we will strive to respond faithfully to our mission of always: bringing Jesus Christ to mankind and leading men to the encounter with Jesus Christ the Way, Truth and Life, truly present in the Church and at the same time, in every man. Such an encounter leads to becoming new men in the mystery of Grace, arousing in the soul that Christian joy which constitutes the hundredfold given by Christ to those who welcome Him into their lives.
As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us so many times in his teachings and, most recently, with that courageous and humble gesture, it is Christ who leads the Church through his Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church with His vivifying and unifying force: of many, it forms a single body, the Mystical Body of Christ. Let us never give in to that pessimism, that bitterness which the devil offers us every day. Let us not give in to pessimism and discouragement; we have that firm confidence which the Holy Spirit gives the Church, with his mighty breath, the courage to persevere and to seek new ways to evangelize, to bring the Gospel to the ends of the Earth (cf. Acts 1:8). The Christian truth is appealing and persuasive because it responds to the profound needs of human existence, announcing convincingly that Christ is the only Savior of the whole man and of all men. This announcement is still valid today, as it was at the beginning of Christianity, when the first great missionary expansion of the Gospel was carried out.
Dear Brothers, courage! Half of us are elderly: old age is – as I love to say — the seat of the wisdom of life. The old have the wisdom of having walked in life, like the elderly Simeon, the aged Anna in the temple. And it was precisely that wisdom that made them recognize Jesus. We offer this wisdom to the young: like good wine, which over the years becomes better, we give to young people the wisdom of life. I am reminded of what a German poet said of old age: “Es ist ruhig, das Alter, und fromm”: it is the time of tranquility and of prayer. And also of giving young people this wisdom. You will now go back to your sees to continue your ministry, enriched by the experience of these days, so full of faith and ecclesial communion. This unique and incomparable experience has enabled us to grasp deeply the whole beauty of the ecclesial reality, which is a reflection of the splendor of the risen Christ: one day we will look upon that beautiful face of the Risen Christ!
To the powerful intercession of Mary, our Mother, Mother of the Church, I entrust my ministry and your ministry. Under her motherly gaze, may each of us walk joyfully, obedient to the voice of her divine Son, strengthening unity, persevering together in prayer and witnessing to genuine faith in the continuous presence of the Lord. With these sentiments – they are real! – with these sentiments, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing, which I extend to your collaborators and to the persons entrusted to your pastoral care.[Translation by Peter Waymel]