By Paul Dobbyn
“THE pulling of yet another rabbit from the hat”, “a kind of foot-washing reality” and “an indication of sincere simplicity”.
Pope Francis’ surprise appearance in the Vatican employee cafeteria to share a meal with workers has drawn these and many more such positive comments from Church leaders in Brisbane archdiocese and beyond.
The Pope, Vatican Radio said, waited in line with the rest of the employees for his lunch of pasta, cod and grilled tomatoes.
“He showed up, got his tray, silverware, he stood in line and we served him,” the cafeteria’s chef Franco Paini told Vatican Radio on July 25.
He acted “normally, like the humblest of the workers”, Mr Paini said.
The cafeteria in the Vatican’s “industrial area” serves employees who work as technicians, electricians, plumbers, metalworkers, craftsmen, but also employees of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
The Pope sat down to eat at a table with workers from the Vatican pharmacy’s warehouse.
They spoke to the Pope about their jobs and the Pope talked about his Italian heritage.
Table talk also included soccer and the economy, the Vatican newspaper reported.
For Brisbane’s Holy Spirit Provincial Seminary rector Monsignor Tony Randazzo, the incident harked back to his days in Rome and his memories of dining with the pope-to-be.
The monsignor, as assistant director of Domus Internationalis Paulus VI (accommodation for members of the Curia), shared several meals with then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.
“He would come into the large dining room, pull up a chair and have a conversation with whoever was at the table,” Msgr Randazzo said.
“He was never opinionated or pushy – actually just sort of normal.”
Msgr Randazzo said he was sure there would have been changes in the man he once knew as Cardinal Bergoglio, because of the enormity of the role as Vicar of Christ, “but it certainly doesn’t seem to have changed him into an ugly person; if anything it has enhanced the simple dignity of the man”.
“The papacy hasn’t changed his personality but perhaps his personality is changing the papacy,” he said.
Catholic Religious Australia president Mercy Sister Berneice Loch said “this simple action on the part of Pope Francis is heart-warming and appears to be quite typical of the man we are coming to know as Pope”.
“He seems to be gifted with a sincere simplicity and lives this out in many ways,” she said.
“What gave me pause was to wonder why it should be so ‘radical’ for the leader of the Catholic Church to sit down and eat with his staff.
“In an organisation which is meant to be the ongoing presence of Jesus in the world you could wonder why it would be exceptional of itself, especially given that Jesus was often present at a table with his disciples, friends, family and other acquaintances.”
The Josephites’ national leader Sr Monica Cavanagh said Pope Francis’ latest action put into practice the words of the Gospel.
“His visit would have been a great delight for the people in the cafeteria,” she said.
“He’s not just speaking words but really showing us all how to do the Christ thing.
“It’s a kind of foot-washing reality as the servant to the people.
“And the fact he talked so freely shows a willingness to learn from those in the cafeteria.”
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said “we can expect to see more such rabbits pulled from the papal hat”.
“His appearance in the cafeteria fits an already established pattern,” the Archbishop said.
“Pope Francis clearly wants to dismantle elements of the courtly protocol which has surrounded the papacy.
“He wants to demystify the office and make the pope seem a little more ordinary – without in any way diminishing the papacy.
“If anything, such gestures can give the papacy greater appeal and power in contemporary culture.”