For the solemnity of Corpus Domini, the Pope used to go to his cathedral archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. He celebrated Mass and then accompanied the Blessed Sacrament in an evocative procession that moved from the cathedral to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. Pope Francis did this in the first years of his pontificate.

Until 2016, he kept the solemnity on Thursday, as was tradition.

In 2017, he moved it to Sunday, as is done in countries (including Italy) where the day of Corpus Domini is not a holiday. For two years, he celebrated Corpus Domini in the suburbs, first in Ostia, then in the Roman neighborhood of Casal Bertone. In 2020, there was a stop imposed by COVID; in 2021, the Mass was celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica; in 2022 and 2023, the Pope did not even celebrate Mass.

This year, Pope Francis has decided to celebrate in the Lateran archbasilica.

The news is interesting because it testifies to a change of pace in the pontificate. The tradition of celebrating Corpus Domini in San Giovanni in Laterano and on the traditional Thursday was desired by John Paul II.

Pope Francis maintained it in the first three years of his pontificate, but he waited for its arrival in Santa Maria Maggiore without participating in the procession.

Instead, by going to the suburbs, he seemed to have resumed the custom of Paul VI, who, starting in 1965, celebrated the solemnity several times in new and marginal neighborhoods of the City. Pope Montini began with EUR and then went to Monte Sacro (1966), Ostia (1968), Nuovo Salario (1970), Tor de’ Schiavi (1972), Portuense (1973), Quadraro (1974 ).

Does this mean that, at the end of his pontificate, Pope Francis is returning to the model of John Paul II? Or does it mean that returning to John Paul II’s tradition is, at this moment, more suitable for the type of pontificate that Pope Francis wants to demonstrate?

In fact, at the beginning of the pontificate, there was often talk – including some from Pope Francis himself – of – Paul VI as a model for the Pope. Paul VI had reformed the Vatican structures after the Second Vatican Council. He dared to bring the Church to the peripheries (e.g. his celebration of a Christmas Mass in a factory in Taranto, Southern Italy). He celebrated the first Mass according to the new rite not in his cathedral in the Vatican or in that of Rome, but in a parish on what were then the Roman outskirts.

Yet, there was something that needed to be fixed. Paul VI was portrayed in the post-Vatican II chronicles as the one who had dared to cut with the past, put away the tiara, simplify the rites, and even abolish parts of the pontifical house. Looking carefully, however, Paul VI did not delete anything. He transformed, maintaining a link with tradition and eliminating the superfluous without betraying the principles and history of the Holy See and the Roman Curia.

The man who would become Pope St. Paul VI needed a refined mind to keep everything together, to be able – for example – to reform the Papal Household and resist the doctrinal pressures that wanted an apparent change on the issues of sexuality in the long-awaited encyclical Humanae Vitae.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, reforms harshly. He is, like George W. Bush, “the decider” who looks forward, never backward. He does not consider how change has come in the past; he believes there has been a change, and therefore, another change can occur. How reforms arise, however, is not neutral.

Now that Pope Francis seems to have finished the transition of the suburbs, he therefore looks again to the model of John Paul II for acting as bishop of Rome. Pope Francis has reformed the Vicariate so that everything refers directly to him. He reduced the Vicar of the Diocese of Rome to a simple auxiliary among the auxiliaries. He gave unlimited powers to the vicegerent, Baldassarre Reina, to the point of deciding to wait to appoint his new Vicar.

He appointed bishop after auxiliary bishop – including one dedicated only to seminaries (Di Tolve), with an unusual choice, to say the least – and then decided to remove an auxiliary bishop, Daniele Libanori (who was given an ad hoc role as the Pope’s advisor for consecrated life, all to be defined), without however assigning another bishop to the sector he takes care of, but simply appointing a responsible priest as pastoral coordinator, Francesco Pesce.

Pope Francis has accompanied this destructuring of the Vicariate of Rome with increased activity as Bishop of Rome.

He met the Roman parish priests of the different sectors personally and behind closed doors, not re-establishing John Paul II’s visits to the parishes of Rome – JPII visited almost all of them – but has rather preferred the personal, one-to-one meeting. For some time now, he has formally signed all government documents from St. John Lateran, including the bull announcing the 2025 Jubilee.

Now, Pope Francis seems to want to personally take over the government of the diocese, using his loyalists. And suddenly, he returns to celebrate Mass at St. John Lateran for Corpus Domini, restoring a procession that had not been seen since 2017.

After all, Pope Francis was the one who, as soon as he was elected, noticed that the task of the conclave was to give a bishop to Rome, and this is how he wants to be remembered. At the same time, however, the visits to the parishes were not frequent; in some cases, they covered parishes already visited; the meetings with the Roman clergy were few, and the priestly ordinations presided over in Rome were almost nil. Until now, the title of Rome was almost only an honorific for the Pope.

This is not the case. As usual, however, the plan needs to be clarified, including where the pontificate wants to go. Moving from one model to another and adapting it to your needs gives the idea of a fluid way of thinking. Pope Francis, in the end, has no role models. He uses those who can serve his purpose. He cuts everything that he deems unnecessary or that he cannot follow. For example, he often speaks of the fact that he has continued the work of Benedict XVI in the fight against abuse, recognizing the value of Pope Emeritus.

Benedict XVI, however, is mentioned very little. In many cases, Pope Francis has shown that he wants to overturn the decisions of his predecessor – it is not known whether out of personal conviction, whether driven by a negative prejudice on the work of Benedict XVI, or whether annoyed (on an individual level or otherwise) by the actions of the collaborators of the Pope Emeritus, whom he also accused in recent interviews.

The fact is that today, Pope Francis seems to want to act more and more as bishop of Rome, but he does so at a time when the Vicariate as he was conceived no longer exists. Rather, the Pope treated the Vicariate as one of the many offices of the Curia, to be cleaned up and redone by trusting some collaborators/prompters.

It may be because the Pope wants to be buried in St. Mary Major. After all, he needs to give his pontificate a new boost simply because he wants to leave his mark on everything. For now, you simply have to notice the change in register to understand what it will lead to next.


One Response to Pope Francis, as bishop of Rome

  1. Jmj scrive:

    “Pope Francis, in the end, has no role models. He uses those who can serve his purpose. He cuts everything that he deems unnecessary or that he cannot follow”

    A man who considers himself to be his own role model is looking at the rear of the horse thinking its poo doesn’t stink..

    He’s a sad man at the end & may have few friends on either side of heaven & earth.

    He might be pitied, in time…as for now: start carving on the tomb: truly, this one made a mess.”

    Then turn to face the front of the horse to gallop quickly away!

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