It was as clear a summary statement of his vision for the Church as he has given in his first few days, before his inaugural Mass, which took place Tuesday, the important Catholic feast of St. Joseph, patron and protector of the universal Church (and also patron saint of Canada).
The weekend was dominated in Rome by gestures and images, rather than words.
Pope Francis continued his warm and informal style, speaking off the cuff on several occasions. At his first Sunday blessing from his apartment window, he abandoned his text almost entirely, leaving the Holy See press office to catch up later with his remarks.
His security personnel were similarly caught off guard when he wandered just outside the Vatican City gates to greet eager well-wishers in the street. Such scenes have not been seen in Rome since the early days of John Paul II almost 35 years ago.
At the same time as he is introducing himself to Rome and Romans to his style of being their bishop, he is also learning what it means to be pope. During the Sunday blessing from his window, he departed from his text to speak favourably about a book he had been recently reading by Cardinal Walter Kasper, a noted theologian.
The new pope then caught himself, no doubt envisioning hundreds of books arriving at the papal apartment from publishers eager to get a mention at the papal window.
“And this book has benefitted me greatly, but don’t think that I am plugging the books of my cardinals!” Francis said. “That’s not the case.”
The simplicity of his style — and lifestyle — has captured the hearts of Romans. His former parishioners in Buenos Aires have been widely reported here about how their former bishop lived close to God in his prayer, and close to his people in their parishes and schools, on the bus and amongst the poor in the slums.
A Church that is poor, and for the poor — that is Francis’ desire. He begins with a challenge to the Church, not to the world.
In the first and most obvious sense, it means a simplicity in deportment and lifestyle.
Soon after his election he wrote to the bishops of Argentina, thanking them for their support and good wishes — and asking them not to come to Rome for his inaugural Mass, but rather to give the money it would cost to the poor.
It is a challenge to the Catholics in affluent countries to live more modestly, avoiding indulgence and luxuries in order to be able to be more generous in sharing with the poor. It is even a more profound challenge, in that it raises the question of whether the Church can fully proclaim the life and message of Jesus if it becomes shaped by a culture of comfortable affluence.
What does that mean in practise? Canadian Catholics would hear in those words a particular urgency, as the annual collection for their overseas development agency — Development and Peace — is being taken up in these days.
The desire of Francis for a Church that does not abandon the proclamation of Jesus Christ to become only a charitable agency would challenge the standard operating procedure at Development and Peace for decades, where the Christian faith has been downplayed in favour of generic good works.
Francis preached that a Church that is poor is a Church that draws closer to Jesus Christ, who was poor, never moreso than when on the cross, stripped even of his garments.
St. Francis took poverty as an imitation of Christ more seriously than almost any other saint.
That is why the new pope proclaimed his desire for a Church that is poor precisely in the context of explaining why he chose to name himself in honour of Francis of Assisi.
Francis is known in Italy as the “poor little man”.
Pope Francis wants that man as a model for the Church.