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A typical day in the life of a pontiff

In-depth look at how Pope Francis spends his days

A typical day in the life of a pontiff

Immediately after his election, Pope Francis famously stopped off to pay his hotel bill (picture: Vatican Insider/La Stampa)

Andrea Tornielli for Vatican Insider/La Stampa
Vatican City

March 13, 2014

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The image of Francis sat in the fourth row among cardinals and bishops of the Roman Curia, joining them in the annual Lenten spiritual exercises, in Ariccia (Italy), is highly emblematic of the first year of his pontificate. Refusing a throne in order to go and sit in the back rows and be a living example of how authority is service is nothing new for Francis. In 1992, the then archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Antonio Quarracino, appointed the taciturn Jesuit priest - who was happy to spend hours and hours confessing people - Auxiliary Bishop. “I always know where my auxiliary, Bergoglio, is. In the back row...” the cardinal said. Even when he became archbishop and cardinal and during his frequent visits to the villas miserias, the slums of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio would always sit in the back rows. This is why it was so easy for him to renounce certain age-long symbols typical of imperial customs which the papacy had inherited. His way of doing things, his style, which is filled with substance,  has brought him close to and made him accessible to people.

The light in suite no. 201 in St. Martha’s House, furnished with heavy walnut furniture, comes on very early in the morning, around at 4:30 am. For two hours, Francis sits alone, praying and meditating the Readings of the day and preparing the brief homilies he gives off-the-cuff every morning, as his Maltese secretary Alfred Xuereb explains. A minutes or so before 7 am the Pope goes down to the sacristy alone, where there are fifty or so people, some priests and his two secretaries, Xuereb and Fabián Pedacchio (an Argentinean) waiting for him. Since January, each day the faithful attending the morning mass come from a different Roman parish: the Bishop of Rome, Bergoglio, knows he is unable to visit all the parishes (even Wojtyla didn’t and he was Pope for 27 years), so instead, he invites them, so to speak, to his home. The homilies said at these masses are one of the most important new elements of this pontificate: they are simple, to the point and yet profound at the same time. There is no official written text but Vatican radio publishes a summary of each homily in the late morning. The Vatican publishing house has also published a two-volume work titled “Omelie del mattino”, containing the Pope’s daily morning homilies.

When mass has ended the Pope takes off his vestments and goes back to the chapel where he sits at the back and prays in silence for a minute or so. He then goes out into the atrium to greet people one by one.  He takes his breakfast at 8 am in the St. Martha’s House dining room. This is where the Pope usually has lunch at 1 pm and dinner at 8 pm. In the evening there is only table service for the residence’s guests during the first course. After this, each of Francis’ dining companions, including himself, gets up and chooses their second course from the self-service area.” I need to live among people and if I lived on my own, perhaps a little isolated, it wouldn’t do me good,” Francis said when he explained that he chose not to love in the Apostolic Palace for “psychiatric reasons”, because he can’t “live alone”, isolated in the papal apartment with its funnel-shaped entrance and too many guards. His decision to live in St. Martha’s House dismantled the old “court”-like structure within the space of a few months.

The Pope’s days are intense. A part from the audiences he holds, the official meetings and the visits from heads of state, the piles of documents he receives from the Secretariat of State and the Curia congregations and the reports he gets from the commissions of inquiry into the IOR and the Vatican economy, Francis finds the time to personally read about fifty or so letters and messages from the thousands he receives every day. These sit on his desk for a while and the Pope then responds to them personally without any intermediaries, using the landline.  

The personal secretaries’ role has also changed under Francis’ pontificate: they no longer accompany the Pope during the audiences or on his travels (the papal butler, Sandro Mariotti, known as “Sandrone” now carries out some of the personal secretaries’ tasks on these occasions). They practically have become “invisible”. The only previous case of this happening was when Pius XII was Pope: he had some Jesuit personal secretaries who stayed in the background. In the first few weeks of his pontificate Francis confided to his pupil and friend Jorge Milia that he didn’t want secretaries or other colleagues managing his agenda and deciding who he could and couldn’t meet. And indeed now, he decides and organises many of his meetings himself.

Full Story: Francis, the Pope who shunned “royal court” ways 

Source: Vatican Insider/La Stampa

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