Pope reluctant to be pope: What does it mean?

VATICAN CITY — He still goes by ‘‘Bergoglio’’ when speaking to friends, seems reluctant to call himself pope, and has decided to live in the Vatican hotel rather than the grand papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace.

It might seem as if Pope Francis is in a bit of denial over his new job as leader of the world’s 1.2-billion Catholics.

Or perhaps he’s simply changing the popular idea of what it means to be pope, keeping the no-frills style he cultivated as archbishop of Buenos Aires in ways that may have broad implications for the church.


The world has already seen how Francis has cast aside many trappings of the papacy, refusing to don the red velvet cape Benedict XVI wore for official occasions and keeping the simple pectoral cross he used as bishop and archbishop.

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On Thursday, his belief that a pope’s job is to serve the world’s lowliest will be on display when he washes the feet of a dozen young inmates at a juvenile detention center in Rome. Previous popes have celebrated the Holy Thursday ritual, which re-enacts Christ’s washing of his disciples’ feet before his crucifixion, by washing the feet of priests in one of Rome’s most ornate basilicas.

Such moves hint at an apparent effort by Francis, two weeks into his papacy, to demystify the office of pope.

Unlike his predecessors, he doesn’t sign his name ‘‘Pope Francis,’’ ending his official correspondence simply ‘‘Francis.’’

To those closest he is still Bergoglio, and this week, Italian state radio broadcast a voice mail he left wishing a friend Happy Birthday. ‘‘It’s Bergoglio,’’ the pope said, using the surname he was born with.


‘‘I do think there is something about trying to reduce the awesomeness, the grandeur, and majesty of the papacy,’’ said John Allen Jr., Vatican columnist for the National Catholic Reporter. ‘‘Part of this is just his personality. He’s never liked pomp and circumstance.’’

Even after he became Argentina’s top church official in 2001, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio never lived in the ornate mansion that Pope John Paul II stayed in when visiting, preferring simple rooms in a downtown building, warmed by a small stove on frigid weekends when the heat was turned off. He did his own cooking and rode the bus to get around town.

In that same vein, Francis announced this week that he wasn’t moving into the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace and would stay instead in the Vatican’s Santa Marta residence, the antiseptically clean, institutional-style hotel where he and the 114 cardinals who elected him pope were sequestered during the conclave.

Calling the hotel home, Francis indicated that he wants to live in a community with ordinary folk, not the gilded cage of the Apostolic Palace.