An estimated 200,000 faithful flocked to St. Peter’s Square for the Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry Mass celebrated by Pope Francis this morning. 132 government delegations and representatives of different religious faiths were on hand to participate in the Mass, which celebrated the Feast of St. Joseph, patron saint of the Universal Church.
Prior to the start of the Mass, Pope Francis greeted the faithful aboard an open-top SUV, foregoing the bulletproof Popemobile. During the drive around the square, the Holy Father asked the motorcade to stop in order to personally greet one of the faithful present who suffered from a physical disability.
After vesting in the sacristy, the Holy Father made his way to the tomb of St. Peter, where he knelt for a few minutes, flanked by the patriarchs and heads of the Eastern Churches. Placed on top of the tomb were the pallium and the Ring of the Fisherman, symbols of the papacy.
Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, the proto deacon who announced the election of Pope Francis last week, invested the Holy Father with the pallium while Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, placed the Ring of the Fisherman on the Pope’s finger.
The Vocation of a ‘Protector’
Reflecting on the Gospel, which was sung in Greek, the Pope focused on St. Joseph’s role as custos, or protector, of not only Jesus and Mary but, as Blessed Pope John Paul II said, as the one who “watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model.”
“How does Joseph exercise his role as protector?” the Holy Father asked. “Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand.”
The Holy Father called on those present at the Mass to respond to God’s call through the example of St. Joseph: to “protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!”
“The vocation of being a ‘protector’, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone,” the Holy Father said. “It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us.”
“It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it.”
“Be protectors of God’s gifts!” the Holy Father exclaimed.
Addressing in particular those in positions of leadership, Pope Francis appealed to them to be ‘protectors’ of creation as well as “protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”
“Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!”
The Mission of the Petrine Ministry
Regarding the inauguration of his Petrine Ministry, Pope Francis reflected on Jesus’ conferral of power to St. Peter while reminding the faithful that the authentic power is service. The Pope, he said, “when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross.”
“He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison. Only those who serve with love are able to protect!”
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis emphasized the role of the Bishop of Rome as one who is called to protect Jesus and Mary, creation, each person, in particular the poorest.
At the end of the Mass, Pope Francis approached the statue of the Virgin Mary while the choir sang the Marian hymn, Salve Regina.