Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Pope's Secretary

Pope Francis with his secretary, Msgr Alfred Xuereb from Gozo, Malta
It is an honor for Malta that Pope Francis chose a Maltese priest to be his private secretary. When, shortly after his election, Francis welcomed Msgr. Alfred Xuereb as his secretary, he made a “Popish joke” about a letter he received which he said spoke unfavorably of Xuereb. The letter was from Benedict XVI and in fact praised the Maltese prelate. Xuereb, who was nominated secretary of the Holy See’s new economic dicastery just a few days ago, talks about this in an interview with Vatican Radio.
“From 28 February, Benedict XVI’s last day as Pope and the day we left the Apostolic Palace forever to 15 March, so two days after the new Pope’s election, I stayed with the Pope Emeritus in Castel Gandolfo to keep him company and help him with secretarial work. When it came to the moment where we had to part ways was heartrending because I had had the fortune of living with him for five years and leaving him, being separated from him was very tough. Everything happened so quickly, I didn’t know I was going to have to pack my bags and leave Castel Gandolfo and Benedict XVI that very day. But the Vatican was telling me to hurry, pack my bags and get to St. Martha’s House because Pope Francis was even opening the door himself: he didn’t have a secretary to help him. I went to the chapel several times to meditate that morning because I felt a little bit confused. But I was certain, I had a strong feeling I was being guided from Above.”
“I went into into Pope Benedict’s study crying,” the Maltese prelate said during the interview, “I found it hard to speak but I tried to tell him how sad I was and how difficult our separation was for me. I thanked him for the fatherly kindness he had shown me. I assured him that the experiences I had in the Apostolic Palace with him helped me see “the things up there” much more clearly. Then I kneeled down to kiss his ring, which was no longer the fisherman’s ring and with his look of fatherly tenderness, he got up and blessed me.”
Xuereb then went on to describe his first meeting with Francis. “ He welcomed me into his study, greeted me in his usual cordial manner and even cracked a joke, a Popish joke if I may call it so! He was holding a letter and said to me in a serious tone: “Ah, but we have a problem or two here, there’s someone who doesn’t have a very good opinion of you!” I clammed up but then I realised he was referring to the letter Pope Benedict had sent him to informed the Pope that I had been released from his service and that I was now free to serve Francis. Pope Benedict was kind enough to list some of my qualities. Pope Francis invited me to sit down on the sofa and he sat on a chair beside me. He asked me in a very fraternal way to help him in his challenging task. Finally he wanted to know my relationship with superiors and other important figures. I told him that at least on my part I could say I go on well with everyone.”

Pope Francis signing a cast of a young woman
"I see the missionary spirit in Francis. He calls the crowd towards him, a crowd that maybe feels lost, and brings it back to the heart of the Gospel. He has become a parish priest of the world and is encouraging those who feel they have grown apart from the Church to return in the knowledge that they will find their place within it. Clericalism and case history present serious obstacles to making everyone in the Church feel loved and supported. Parish priests and priests tell us almost on a daily basis that people are going back to confession and are actively practicing the faith thanks, encouraged by Pope Francis, especially when he reminds us that God never tires of forgiving us.”
Xuereb underlined the “special attention” the Pope shows to the “sick and this is because he recognized the body of Christ in their suffering and completely forgets his own misfortunes. For example in the first months of his pontificate he was in a great deal of pain because of his sciatica. Doctors advised him to avoid bending over but when he met sick people in wheel chairs or sick children in their buggies he bend down anyway to show his closeness to them. He also did so when he washed the young prisoners’ feet at Casal del Marmo, during the Eucharistic celebration on Holy Thursday. Despite the pain he was probably in, he knelt down before each one of the twelve young offenders to kiss their feet.”