Already the first words of Francis’ address to the College of Cardinals this morning set a tone in keeping with the initial impressions the new Holy Father has been giving to the Church.
He began his speech, “Brother Cardinals” (not Lord Cardinals as they are often addressed), and went on to thank them for their collaboration and to speak of the “intense ecclesial communion experienced during this period.”
Francis spoke from a text — his first homily, given Thursday, was delivered extemporaneously — but he left aside his prepared words at various times throughout the address.
After the discourse, the Holy Father spent more than an hour speaking to each of the cardinals as they approached to greet him individually.
His address began with echoing sentiments expressed by Pope Benedict XVI in his last general audience: “In these days we have felt almost physically the affection and solidarity of the universal Church,” Francis said, “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.”
“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,” he added.
The Holy Father specifically mentioned certain of the cardinals — Cardinal Sodano, the dean of the College, Cardinal Bertone, who as chamberlain, directed the Church during the time of the sede vacante, and Cardinal Re, who led the conclave.
Francis also mentioned his predecessor: “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.”
Then, Francis spoke of the role of the cardinals, speaking of the experience of the past several days.
“Animated by a deep sense of responsibility and supported by a great love for Christ and for the Church,” he said, “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.”
The Pontiff reflected on the role of the Holy Spirit, noting how He is the source of the Church’s diversity and unity.
“The Paraclete accounts for all the differences in the churches, and seems to be an apostle of Babel,” he said. “But on the other hand, He is the One who creates unity from these differences, not in ‘equality,’ but in harmony.”
Francis also affirmed his own willingness to serve, “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,” he said.
Turning again to the teaching of his predecessor, Francis noted that as “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,” he exhorted. “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.”
As the Pontiff concluded entrusting the Church to Mary, he paused with emphasis as he referred to her as “our Mother.”
“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,” he said. “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.”
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On ZENIT’s Web page:
On the Vatican’s YouTube channel, the video of the address and subsequent greetings is available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9azuAbleRCg&list=UU7E-LYc1wivk33iyt5bR5zQ&index=5