VATICAN CITY — As his efforts to reform the Roman Curia continue, Pope Francis is personally visiting the existing offices, praying, meeting all the personnel, listening to their explanations of what they do and responding to their questions.
All I got was a wave.
With about a dozen other reporters and photographers, I was on stakeout duty this morning. The crafty pope, though, likes to show up early for things. His visit was announced for “after 9 a.m.” and he was inside by 8:50 a.m.
From the outside, there was no sign of a special visitor, and initially no extra police presence.
Pope Francis’ four-hour visit started on the upper floors of the building at Piazza Pio XII (Pius XII Square, usually referred to as the taxi stand outside of St. Peter’s Square), and worked his way down, accompanied by one member of the Vatican police force.
Norbertine Father Bernard Ardura, president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, was the first to host the pope, explaining what the small committee does.
The pope’s next visit was to the much larger Congregation for Catholic Education, where the prefect-emeritus, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, welcomed him. The cardinal told our colleagues at I.Media, that the meeting was “spontaneous” and “very fraternal.”
“We presented our projects and our work,” he said, and Pope Francis spoke insistently about the importance of a Catholic identity at church-run schools and institutions.
Next it was the turn of the Congregation for Clergy and, again, staff members reported a very warm, relaxed atmosphere.
Finally, the pope visited the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
By mid-morning, the number of tourists and pilgrims outside the building had grown, and two plainclothes officers from the Italian state police showed up. They were nice, but not particularly helpful. When I asked one to go in and ask the pope to come speak to us, he reminded me that as an Italian state official, he was not allowed to enter Vatican property without an invitation.
Pope Francis left the building just after 1 p.m. He was sitting in the front passenger seat of a blue Ford Focus. I waved instead of taking photos; he waved back, but did not roll down the window or stop for a chat. A few seconds later, the car was stuck in a typical midday traffic jam to the delight of the guy on a moped who was stuck next to him. Once free, the pope’s car passed the station of the Italian state police where several officers did what I had done; they, too, were rewarded with a wave.
The visits to Vatican offices are scheduled to continue June 1 with a drop-in on the congregations for Bishops, Saints’ Causes and Divine Worship and the Sacraments, as well as the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.
The spring visits appear to be an organized attempt to visit all the Curia offices, but they are not his first foray into Curia territory. The pope has been a frequent visitor to the offices of the Synod of Bishops, which are outside the Vatican walls at Via della Conciliazione 34.
A month after his election in March 2013, he visited the offices of the Vatican Secretariat of State. Over the months, visits followed to the Vatican motor pool, a workshop and the employee’s cafeteria.