VATICAN CITY — The Vatican released an official schedule for Pope Francis March 17-24, but if his first two days as pope were any indication, the schedule was only an outline destined to expand at a moment's notice.
The only event on the new pope's schedule March 15 was an audience with the world's cardinals. But shortly before that meeting, he shocked the receptionist at the Jesuit headquarters by telephoning the order's superior general; he made an evening visit to a Rome clinic to visit 90-year-old Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mejia who had had a heart attack; then he stopped at the replica of the grotto of Lourdes in the Vatican Gardens to pray before a statue of Mary.
The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said the pope spent 20 minutes visiting privately with Cardinal Mejia at the Pius XI clinic before visiting the clinic's intensive care unit, greeting doctors and other staff members, then praying in the chapel with the Sisters of St. Joseph, who operate the facility.
Also March 16, Pope Francis formally reconfirmed the prefects, presidents and secretaries of Vatican congregations and councils "donec aliter provideatur" (until otherwise provided), meaning for the time being. While temporary reappointments are normal at the beginning of a pontificate, the Vatican notice added that the pope intended to take "time for reflection, prayer and dialogue before making any definitive appointments or confirmations."
March 17 the pope celebrated Mass at Rome's Church of St. Anne, then led an overflow crowd in St. Peter's Square in praying the Angelus.
Pope Francis was to meet March 18 with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
The new pope's installation, formally known as the Mass for the beginning of the Petrine ministry, was scheduled for March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, in St. Peter's Square.
In addition to official government delegations, the Vatican confirmed that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, was planning to attend. The Vatican newspaper said he would be the first patriarch of Constantinople to attend a papal installation since the Great Schism of 1054 separated Christianity between East and West.
While Patriarch Bartholomew did not attend the installation of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, he was a frequent visitor to the Vatican during Pope Benedict's pontificate.
The rest of the pope's schedule released by the Vatican included:
• March 20 Pope Francis will meet with the delegations from Christian churches and communities that came for the installation.
• March 22 the pope will meet with diplomats accredited to the Vatican.
• March 23 Pope Francis will leave the Vatican at noon by helicopter and fly 15 minutes south to Castel Gandolfo. He will meet Pope Benedict at the papal villa there and have lunch with him.
• March 24 Pope Francis will preside over Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square.