Vatican City, Mar 13, 2015 / 15:31 pm
The infant moments of Francis' papacy deeply signified what his future mission would be like, reflected Catholics who were present for his election two years ago.
After white smoke wafted up from the Sistine Chapel signaling a new pope, the crowd in St. Peter's Square was jubilant with expectation. "The Holy Spirit was palpably present," related Kathryn Jean Lopez, founding director of Catholic Voices USA.
"It had been raining for days," she said. "There was something Lenten, penitential and appropriate, reflecting the season and the pope-lessness of the moment."
About an hour later, Pope Francis stepped onto the balcony above St. Peter's Basilica and gave the crowd – and the world – his first Urbi et Orbi blessing – "to the city and the world."
The Italians were ecstatic when his papal title "Francis" was announced, said Kim Daniels, senior advisor to Catholic Voices USA.
"'Francesco! Francesco!' they kept saying," Daniels said. "St. Francis [of Assisi] is so important to all of us, and especially to Italians."
And Pope Francis has followed the example of his patron saint. Firstly, he puts his faith into concrete action and "interacts with people directly," Daniels said.
St. Francis also preached love of peace and care for the environment. "I think it's clear that Pope Francis is pointing in that direction as well, as we look forward to the ecology encyclical coming out this summer," she continued.
With the crowd at fever pitch, the new pope asked for silence and prayer. That was an "extremely powerful moment," Daniels described.
"The silence really spoke something about the humility at the heart of our faith and reminded us that we find God in silence."
Pope Francis then summoned his audience to accompany him and each other on the "camino" or "journey," one of "fraternity, of love, of trust among us." This language of "journey" was also significant.
"An important key to his papacy has been that he seeks to walk with God's holy, faithful people," Daniels said. He "consistently focuses on the concrete situations faced by real people including especially the poor and forgotten, instead of pointing to abstract ideas."
Other Catholics related how Pope Francis has influenced them personally.
"He has also not neglected to remind us, day in and day out, of the importance of our families and how each one is a domestic church, where we learn generosity and fidelity from one another," said Grazie Christie of The Catholic Association.
Francis catches everyone "off guard" but this challenges them in a good way, her colleague Ashley McGuire explained.
Whether it be his "trading in the papal palace for a humble apartment" or "choosing to ride in a Ford Focus," Francis has laid out "a pattern to be followed and at the same time mercifully reaches us where we are, at a level we can understand, take to heart, and turn into action that brings Christ to our world."
On Friday, Francis announced a Holy Year for Mercy, an extraordinary jubilee year that will begin Dec. 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
"God had mercy on us in giving us Pope Francis," Lopez responded. "It's the same Church, but it's one where the first pope from the Americas pleads with us to meet Jesus, know Jesus, share Jesus. To be the people of the Sermon on the Mount already."