VATICAN CITY -- As world leaders head to Rome for Tuesday's inaugural Mass of Pope Francis, there is one group that the new pope has politely asked to stay home: his fellow Argentinians.
On the night of his election he called the papal nuncio in Buenos Aires and told him to "tell the bishops to tell the people not to come. It's too expensive. Use the money you would have spent on travel to help the poor," said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.
President Barack Obama has appointed Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House leader; New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez; and Georgetown University president John DeGioia as the U.S. delegation. Both Mr. Biden and Ms. Pelosi have drawn Catholic ire for their support of legal abortion, but they are the highest-ranking Catholics in the government, while Ms. Martinez is a Republican who opposes abortion.
The Vatican spokesman dealt with one other political matter, the recirculation of old accusations that Pope Francis, as Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, had collaborated with an Argentinian dictatorship in the 1970s that murdered thousands of people, including priests and nuns who worked for human rights. He was accused of looking the other way as the Jesuit provincial superior when two of his priests were kidnapped and held for five months.
"There was never a concrete or credible accusation in this regard," a Vatican statement said. "Instead there have been many declarations demonstrating how much Bergoglio did to protect many persons at the time of the military dictatorship. Bergoglio's role, once he became bishop, in promoting a request for forgiveness of the church in Argentina for not having done enough at the time of the dictatorship, is also well known."
One of the kidnapped priests, the Rev. Franz Jalics, issued a statement Friday saying that during his captivity he was unaware of what Father Bergoglio did or did not do on his behalf and left the country as soon as he was freed.
"Only years later did we have the opportunity to discuss these events with Father Bergoglio, who had meanwhile been appointed archbishop," he wrote. "After our conversation, we celebrated Mass publicly and we embraced one another. I have made my peace with these events and, as far as I am concerned, the case is closed. I wish Pope Francis God's rich blessings for his office."
The Rev. Jeff Klaiber, the Jesuit author of "The Jesuits in Latin America," said that direct witnesses to the events in question have said that Father Bergoglio did try to help the imprisoned Jesuits, though "he could have been more forceful."
The Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit political scientist at Georgetown University, said that the old accusation against the new pope "doesn't make sense." In part that's because Jesuits wouldn't have elected a superior who would maliciously endanger their lives, he said.
Meanwhile in Rome, Pope Francis continued to display a surprisingly egalitarian style. For breakfast with other cardinals, "he just goes around and finds the place that's available and sits down. ... There is no special place of honor for him. He is just at home among everybody," said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican translator.
For a short talk to the cardinals Friday he had a text but ad-libbed many remarks. He gave an update on a cardinal who had suffered a heart attack and later visited the elderly man in the hospital. His unscripted remarks, the spokesmen told the journalists, make it impossible to provide advance texts or quick translations.
"That is the cost of having such spontaneity and such openness. That is something new happening right before us," Father Rosica said.
Pope Francis addressed his listeners as "brother cardinals" rather than the traditional "Lord cardinals." He described their relationship as "that community, that friendship, that closeness that will do us all well."
He acknowledged differences in the church but said that the Holy Spirit "is the one who makes unity of these differences, not in equality, but in harmony."
He concluded with a strong call to evangelization.
"Do not give in to pessimism and discouragement. We have the firm certainty that the Holy Spirit gives the church, with his mighty breath, the courage to persevere and also to seek new methods of evangelization," he said.
"The Christian truth is attractive and persuasive because it responds to the deep needs of human existence, convincingly announcing that Christ is the only savior of the whole person and of all persons. This announcement is as valid today as it was at the beginning of Christianity when there was a great missionary expansion of the gospel."
According to Father Lombardi, the papal nuncio to Argentina is reporting a revival there. At a parish where the nuncio says Mass, the pastor has been spending all day hearing confessions, many from people who hadn't made one in more than a decade.
During his last Sunday homily before the conclave, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., had said that a revival of the sacrament of reconciliation would be the sign that the church's new evangelization was taking root. On Friday the Italian newspaper La Repubblica credited him with convincing American cardinals electors, the second-largest national group, to coalesce around Cardinal Bergoglio.
Cardinal Wuerl didn't respond to an inquiry about that, and others say he wasn't the only American to offer early support for the Argentinian. Americans who knew the Argentinian well urged others to consider him. Though there wasn't unanimity, American support is said to have made an impact.
Among those who know Pope Francis well is Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington, D.C., who was too old to vote. He has stayed with Cardinal Bergoglio several times.
Other archbishops show him their cities' great monuments, "But when you travel around with Pope Francis in Buenos Aires, you are brought to see all the poor places. He'll say, 'Down there is a very poor, poor neighborhood where we put a church, and I am trying to work with the people there.' It's very beautiful," Cardinal McCarrick said.
Pope Francis "is the most uncomplicated brilliant man," he said.
St. Francis was much the same, he said, and "probably accomplished it by being so loving of all people, especially those who have nothing. Secondly, by being so committed to peace and the ending of anger between human beings. And third, by loving nature. I think that we will find this Holy Father a real champion of the care of our world, physical care of our world."
American cardinals have dismissed Italian press accounts of a grim battle between conclave factions who wanted an Italian or a Vatican insider or a Vatican outsider.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, a longtime pastor in Pittsburgh, appeared near tears as he spoke of the holiness of the conclave experience.
"Nobody takes this as some kind of [political] convention. That's not what it is. The conclave was momentous and awe-inspiring," he said. Conversations outside the conclave "were addressing deep questions of faith, of how you make the church go and work."
So far, Cardinal DiNardo is inspired by what he sees, saying the new pope is firm in his core beliefs but open to the ideas of others.
"I do believe he will seek consultation from his brothers in the college [of cardinals] who elected him," he said.mobilehome
Ann Rodgers: firstname.lastname@example.org.