Bergoglio as Liturgist and Cleaning Staff

Two excerpts from Francis, Bishop of Rome by Michael Collins:

‘In Buenos Aires,’ Bergoglio noted, ‘there are about two thousand meters [c. 1¼ miles] between one parish and the next. So I said to the priest, “If you can, rent a garage and, if you find some willing layman, let him go there! Let him be with those people a bit, do a little catechesis and even give Communion if they ask him.” A parish priest said to me: “But Father, if we do this the people then won’t come to church.” But why? I asked him: “Do they come to Mass now” “No,” he answered. And so! Coming out of oneself is also coming out from the fenced garden of one’s own convictions, considered irremovable, if they risk becoming an obstacle, if they close the horizon that is also of God.’

Bergoglio could be severe with his priests. He poked fun at the pomposity of some clergy. ‘I sometimes tell them to look at the peacock. He looks wonderful from the front with shining feathers. But then look at him as he passes from behind, and there you have a different story.’

*               *               *               *               *

Leaving St. Mary’s [the day after his election] he then went to collect his luggage at the clerical hostel on the Via del Clero beside Piazza Navona. Not suspecting he would be elected pope, he had left his belongings in his room.

Arriving at the Casa del Clero, the pope asked at the porter’s desk for a bulb for the bedside lamp. He remembered it had blown. The surprised official gave the pope a bulb. A short while later the pope descended with his luggage, paid the bill, saluted everyone and returned to the Vatican. The bulb had been changed.


From Francis, Bishop of Rome: A Short Biography by Michael Collins (Liturgical Press, 2013), 51 and 99.


  1. Not so sure that we have to do a lot to get people back to church.

    Sixty percent of people pray daily while only about 30% go to church. I think we just need big signs outside church saying “If you pray daily come worship with us this weekend.” There is a strong drive for cognitive consistently. If we just let people know they are good people they will come to church.

    Francis has a lot more faith in people than in rules. When I sat on parish council and heard the people (not just the priests and the pastoral staff) complain when people came late or left early, I said that those people must love God and probably 90% of them pray daily. Let’s give them reasons for coming early (other than the rule of being on time) and let’s give them reasons to stay late (other than the rule of staying until the clergy leave).

    Changing light bulbs is also better than cursing the darkness. How nice of Francis to think not only of the next person but also of the staff.

      1. @Fran Rossi Szpylczyn – comment #3:
        “Let’s give them reasons for coming early…”

        Could you suggest something a bit more specific?

        Varieties of music seem to have failed, coffee and donuts have failed, English and Latin have failed, youth groups have failed… what are the hidden offerings that might return some of our proverbial lost sheep, let alone nab some from the other flocks?

      2. @Sean Keeler – comment #4:

        “Varieties of music seem to have failed, coffee and donuts have failed, English and Latin have failed, youth groups have failed… what are the hidden offerings that might return some of our proverbial lost sheep, let alone nab some from the other flocks?”

        How about our love for one another? Having tried all that other stuff, let’s try that. Back to basics, if you will.

  2. If all the non-practicing Catholics I know started to attend Mass, but came late and left right after communion, I’m not sure I would complain about it.

    I attended a Greek Orthodox church a couple times and was amazed at how fluid the attendance was. The vast majority would be very late by Roman Catholic standards and the whole thing was very “chaotic” with people walking around, lighting candles and kissing icons rather than doing everything in unison with the priest. It was like a highly ritualized family holiday dinner. I know they don’t have high attendance either, but they definitely seem to look at Church attendance differently.

    1. @Jack Wayne – comment #2:
      Jack, The Orthodox seem to have a long tradition of participating in a movable feast buried within lengthy vigil offices,or the remnants of a vigil.

      I think this leads to a somewhat casual approach to expressing personal acts of piety. Here in the U.S. I’ve found the only people who usually flock to Orthros are Anglican and Catholic converts to Orthodoxy. The cradle born Orthodox males often skip out during offices to have a smoke, or get a cup of coffee. I was told by a Greek friend of mine that this is traditionally a cultural trait of Orthodox men. To leave the ladies with children to do the praying.

      I was in the metropolitan cathedral in Athens years ago. Got to Orthros about 6 am for a rite that lingers for at least an hour and a half. Sat there with two other people during most of the time who had lit candles, and did the rounds honoring the icons.

      The archbishop showed up, greeted by the clergy and a few old ladies with children. The women followed him to his stall and were soon joined by an even larger company of elderly women straggling in after having performed their devotions.

      For the next half hour, almost all of them gradually approached his stall on the south side to kneel before him, chat, receive his words of advice (a common practice of the laity with monks and other holy men), and to receive his blessings. I’ve never observed this in Orthodox churches here, but the Athenian practice struck me as a wonderful opportunity for a pastoral moment, an extgension of the bishop’s teaching office on a personal level during a public rite. It was very moving in a way. Admittedly, very difficult in a society where time is carefully calibrated and Catholics expect a liturgy which won’t extend beyond an hour. Something very different in societies where people are accustomed to suspending time.

  3. I can only speak from my own experience as a parish assistant and pastor in the Midwest and in Italy. I can’t give a comprehensive answer, but I can give what I have.

    It is my experience that people come back to Mass on account of being personally invited. Evangelization, in a large measure, is inviting people to encounter the Lord and His presence in the Church. It requires exactly what the Holy Father’s quote describes–going out and inviting in, one person or one family at a time. I’ve found this to be true among Anglos and Latinos, Neocats and Extraordinary Form folks alike. What is especially hard about this is that it isn’t usually about talking to strangers, but to those whom we know. It requires a risk, namely, the revealing of a relationship with the Beloved to another person. That revelation puts people in a vulnerable, often uncomfortable spot. I’ve found that I ask people a simple question. I ask, “Do you have deep and abiding peace and joy in your life?” That usually gives them pause. Then I make the invitation, saying, “I’ve got them, and if you want, I can show you how to find them both.” I’ve had a lot of success with this with people across cultures and languages.

    There is also a second question that is different from “How we get people to come to church?” That’s “How do we get people to stay in church?” Well, if we try to answer the first with the second, we won’t get very far, and we’ll get mad when people leave early or don’t come for doughnuts. If, however, we’ve done the work of making the personal connection, the work of getting people to stay is about making people feel at home. That, I think, is where cultural questions are very important. This is where parish activities are important. But, they’ll only be effective to the extent that they help lead us to peace and joy. People don’t tend to leave because they reject the Lord. They leave becauase they haven’t found Him in our midst.

    Perhaps your experience has been different, but this has been mine.

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