You probably saw the reports on Pope Francis’ first pastoral trip outside Rome yesterday – to the port city Lampedusa, to call attention to the plight of immigrants and attack the “globalization of indifference.” Francis shunned the fancy Mercedes popemobile and rode around in a 20-year-old Fiat. He drew high praise for his moral witness – in the German press, for example.

Readers of this blog will be interested in the liturgical and ceremonial aspects of the visit.

  • the altar was built over a small boat.
  • Francis’ pastoral staff was made of wood recycled from a shipwrecked boat.
  • the lectern was made of old wood with a ship’s wheel mounted on the front;
  • the chalice was carved from wood of a shipwrecked boat (though lined with silver).

There is more. Just last November, the Secretary of State stated, “at the venerable behest” of Pope Benedict, that formal dress is required in the presence of the pope – cassock, cape, all of this embroidered in accord with the cleric’s rank, and so forth.

But here is a cleric near the pope yesterday not in cassock:

And here is Guido Marini, master of ceremonies, in a simple black cassock rather than the regal purple he used to wear:

But the other clergy wore purple chausibles – because it was a penitential Mass for the Forgiveness of Sins, remembering and praying for the many immigrants who died at sea. Francis tossed a wreath of white and yellow flowers into the Mediterranean Sea in memory of the estimated 20,000 African immigrants who have died in the past 25 years trying to reach a new life in Europe.

UPDATE: an astute reader points out that in the first photo above, Francis is wearing his plain ring from Buenos Aires, rather than the “Fisherman’s Ring” popes wear in public liturgies. Francis’s fisherman’s ring was notable for being silver rather than gold – from a design done for Paul VI. Ordinarily he puts that on for liturgy – but not here.

One has to wonder – whose creative idea was it to have liturgical vessels made of shipwreck wood? Who is making all these liturgical decisions? Pope Francis seems to take a more active interest in the liturgy than his predecessor Benedict (the reader will catch the irony in that observation), in the sense that more has changed, more quickly, than we saw at the beginning of Benedict’s pontificate. Either Francis is a real take-charge guy, or he is remarkably able to get his team on board quickly with his vision of things.

Referring to the entire visit, Francis later said : “I hope people understand the meaning of this gesture.” Indeed.

awr