Fisher of Men: The New World of Pope Francis


The archbishop has taken over the former apartment of Joseph Ratzinger, who lived there for 23 years, as well as his former job as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which makes him the church's supreme protector of the faith. The son of a foreman at an Opel plant in Mainz, he sometimes greets private visitors in a tracksuit. He is in good spirits, as he celebrates his first anniversary in office; it looks as though the new pope plans to keep him.

The unfortunate situation involving the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) also seems to have been put to rest. A member of the order, Richard Williamson, had denied the Holocaust, and yet Benedict rehabilitated the archconservative bishop nonetheless. Now the Vatican's dialogue with the SSPX seems to have been suspended until further notice.

Archbishop Müller is with Francis on his trip this week to World Youth Day in Brazil. He worked as a priest in Peru and is friends with liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez, who Rome punished in the 1980s because of his Marxist views. Another change under Francis is that the church will be less inclined to fight rebels within its ranks.

The fact that Francis chose Brazil as the destination for his first major trip was meant to show, says Müller, that the church consists of more than "that dissolute bunch from Rome, with their pomp and arrogance." He hopes that the sermons in Rio de Janeiro will provide a boost similar to that emanating from his visit to Lampedusa. Francis plans to speak clearly in Rio, directing his comments to the poor in the Varginha favela, young criminals and drug addicts.

Wildly Enthusiastic

Yet as approachable as Francis seems, it is difficult to meet him. In mid-May, with the German chancellor having just arrived for a private audience, a select group of Germans were allowed to greet the pope afterward. We spent several minutes walking through the corridors of the Apostolic Palace, past saluting Swiss Guards, before being asked to wait in antechambers with damask-covered walls. One could hear Chancellor Angela Merkel's girlish giggle from within. "The next time we'll have pizza on the piazza," she said in German as she left.

Francis, shorter than he seems in pictures and exhausted after a 47-minute conversation about the market economy and financial regulations, stayed behind. His handshake was firm and his eyes curious. There was nothing pompous about him; he wasn't wearing the golden Ring of the Fishermen, but rather a plastic watch.

What does one say to the pope? Perhaps that Rome seems like a new place since his election, like a city that has awakened from a long sleep? He has undoubtedly heard it before, but he still laughed heartily, and he seemed genuinely pleased and real, like a person who is wildly enthusiastic about his job. Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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