Boy, the pundits have had a bad run with this Pope. First, they never saw him emerging as the quick choice of the conclave. According to most pundits, the conclave was looking like a deadlock. And so much for age as a minus in the minds of the cardinals. Second, in all the pundit proposals for Church reform, none of the "geniuses" even thought to say that the new Pope should stay--permanently--at the St. Martha's House hotel used most famously to house cardinals during the conclave and otherwise used to house Vatican officials and visiting prelates. Yet, with this simple decision, the Pope has managed to tap into the informal flows of information that are present in any organization, as he says daily Mass, chats, and eats with his fellow hotel occupants.
I saw a picture today of the Pope with Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles (the largest archdiocese in the U.S.) who was staying at the hotel. Thus, the contact goes beyond the formality of the every-five-year ad limina visits by bishops. Most importantly, the Pope is exposed to different sources of information and is not at the mercy of a gatekeeper. That is a good thing for any top executive or administrator.
And the liturgy is at the center of this move--for the Pope celebrates daily Mass in the hotel chapel. We get to hear a daily Mass homily from the Pope. Instead of the private chapel in the papal palace, we have a more open setting, one to which he has been methodically inviting various groups of Vatican workers. This daily outreach is a way to reach the hearts of those who are crucial to the organization that needs reform. It also seems to me that, if I were a Vatican official living at the hotel, I would be on my best behavior with the Pope as a fellow resident and fellow diner in the hotel dining room.
In retrospect, the Pope has made a major change from a quasi-hidden, aloof papacy to an accessible papacy. The advantage of the change now seems obvious, but all good decisions seem obvious in retrospect.
So, a very simple act and preference is very fruitful in opening up lines of communication and flows of information for the man at the top. A very simple act lets the new Pope get to know his employees better. A very simple act allows contact with visitors to Rome from all over the world. A very simple act makes the daily papal Mass a reality for everyone.
Surely, staying at the Domus Sanctae Marthae (Latin for the "House of St. Martha") is also a gesture demonstrating this Pope's "preferential option for the simple and the humble." Let's hope that preferential option becomes very influential for future Popes. But choosing a new residence is also a great management decision--one that escaped all of the analysts with their know-it-all prescriptions for curial reform. Oh, and this reform was not even proposed by an American, although some Americans take up the posture of expert consultants in managing the universal Church--although several American dioceses have filed for bankruptcy due to scandal and some other dioceses have paid out large sums!