By-the-book Vatican braces for an unscripted papacy

March 14, 2013

(Newly elected Pope Francis I (2nd R) walks in the 5th-century Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore during a private visit in Rome March 14, 2013. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano)

The Vatican, an age-old institution used to having almost everything done by the book, is bracing for the unscripted papacy.

In less than 24 hours after he became the first non-European pope in some 1,300 years, Francis seemed to break more rules than his predecessor did in eight years.

“We are going to have to get used to a new way of doing things,” said Father Tom Rosica, an amiable Canadian priest who runs a Catholic television station in Canada and was drafted to Rome to help with the media influx during the papal transition.

Indeed, the first words out of Francis’ mouth after he became pope sent a signal that things would be different.

He did not start by using the customary “Praised be Jesus Christ” or “Dear brothers and sisters”, but employed a much more familiar and inviting “Buona Sera” – good evening in Italian – to address drenched crowds in a rain-swept St. Peter’s Square.

“I was stunned by what happened last night. I didn’t expect a pontificate to begin with ‘Buona Sera,’” Rosica said.

On the morning after his election, the Vatican was scrambling to meet the needs of a new-style papacy.

“We have to have patience, we are starting something new. There are a lot of things we don’t know yet,” said Father Federico Lombardi, the chief Vatican spokesman, as he faced a barrage of reporters’ questions about what to expect.

The answer is probably: expect the unexpected.

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