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On Religion

March 25, 2013

'Tis the papal gift to be simple

The rise of Pope Francis has certainly raised new questions for Vatican watchers, such as: How significant is it that he has not been wearing cufflinks?

In the past, this kind of detail "would be seen as frivolous," noted Rocco Palmo of Philadelphia, whose "Whispers in the Loggia" site is must-read material for Catholic insiders. Now, this pope's commitment to beyond-symbolic simplicity is causing religious leaders, journalists, diplomats and Catholics at every level to wrestle with the importance of his Jesuit roots, as well as his devotion to St. Francis of Assisi.

The symbolism began with his introduction, when he wore simple white vestments -- the papal equivalent of street clothes -- and declined a formal, ermine-trimmed red cape. He has been wearing his steel pectoral cross, rather than an ornate gold papal model. He has favored black walking shoes over dramatic red footwear.

Greeting the masses in St. Peter's Square, he bowed and said: "Before the bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me." Then he rode the bus with the cardinals, one white skullcap among the red ones. He returned to the Domus Paulus VI -- where he roomed pre-conclave -- to collect his luggage and pay his own bill.

The pope has been placing some of his own calls, shocking clergy who answer their telephones and find the occupant of St. Peter's throne on the other end of the line.

Pope Francis is so reluctant to change his style, noted Palmo, that this trend even "extends under the white cassock, to boot: the Argentine pontiff's preferences don't just make his move to keep wearing black pants visible through the garment, but likewise highlight the untucked tails of his white dress-shirt.

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