by Kochurani Abraham
Pope Francis’ papacy is iconoclastic in many respects. Jorge Bergoglio taking the name ‘Francis’ as Pope, was in itself a revolutionary step as he broke away from the tradition of the earlier pontiffs. As the leading theologian Hans Kung observes, the new Pope with the surprising and programmatic name is a challenge to the Roman system, in terms of both spiritual and institutional reform. (Kung, “Don’t let spring turn to winter - Power and poverty”, 2013)
The choice of this name was indeed evangelical and Francis did not delay in translating to life why he opted to be the namesake of the ‘Poverello’ . The simplicity that has characterized his papacy right from its start has been a testimonial to the politics of this choice. His humble lifestyle as evident in the hostel he chose to stay and the public transport he accesses, his use of language that is comprehensible even to ordinary people and his very approachable ways of relating to people - all testify to the uniqueness of Francis’s papacy and the rejuvenation it promises to the 21st century Catholic Church.
On Maundy Thursday shortly after his election, Pope Francis washed the feet of young prisoners including a Muslim girl at a juvenile detention center outside Rome. In doing so, he was not breaking tradition for its own sake, but reclaiming the spirit and Christian significance of what had become a dead and exclusive ritual in the Church. This prophetic gesture, which declared in loud and clear terms the liberative import of Jesus’ servant leadership and the inclusive vision of the Reign of God, was a momentous event. Though it was not taken up widely by the tradition-minded sections of the universal Church, the evangelical implications of this path-breaking initiative cannot be overlooked.
It is widely acclaimed that Francis’s leadership has brought a new freshness to the way of being church in the world today. The wide reception of his Apostolic Exhortation Evangeli Gaudium and Encyclical Laudato Si, testifies to this fact. In Laudato Si, Francis called for a new relationality with the earth, which becomes possible only by moving away from human greed. Though this poses a tough challenge to the anthropocentric liberal market economy that has become the norm in today’s world, Francis’ call has found a strong echo across the globe. Perhaps what has made this document very appealing to many is the manner in which the Pope has brought out the spiritual dimension underlying ecological concerns.
Another characteristic feature that marks Pope Francis’s papacy is the outflow of mercy that has become a tangible experience through his words and deeds. Francis’ outreach to the poor and the marginalized, particularly the migrants and the refugees, speaks volumes to this effect. The ‘Gospel of Mercy’ is his response to the migrant and refugee crisis. He calls for an integration that will become mutual enrichment, open up positive perspectives to communities, and prevent the danger of discrimination, racism, extreme nationalism or xenophobia. (Message of Pope Francis on the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 2016). For him, protecting the world's migrants and refugees is a moral imperative, “a duty towards our brothers and sisters who, for various reasons, have been forced to leave their homeland: a duty of justice, of civility and of solidarity.” (Sixth International Forum on Migration and peace, 2017). These words became flesh as he reached out to the Syrian refugees, and took back with him to Rome 12 Muslims from three Syrian families during his visit to the Greek island of Lesbos. This gesture, though symbolic, communicated to the world a powerful message that the ‘Gospel of Mercy’ should not remain mere words.
Mercy and compassion seeps out of Pope Francis, not just in the texture of his life, but also through the text of Catholic doctrine, which is his distinctive contribution to the present times. This has become most evident in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia through which he invites the Church to make present the compassionate heart of Christ before the many situations that call for healing today.
In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis plainly sets out his moral and pastoral approach -observes Indian moral theologian George Therookattil. This is done in attentiveness to the realities and complexities of life in the concrete, rather than in the abstract. In his opinion, the goal of the Exhortation is to help families—in fact, everyone—experience being touched by an unmerited, unconditional, gratuitous mercy of God and know that they are welcome in the Church. Therefore, it speaks of the pastoral concern to those who are divorced and have entered into new unions, those in mixed marriages, with disparity of cults and to those with homosexual orientation. It is an invitation to mercy and pastoral discernment that asks the Church to meet people where they are, to consider and take into account families and individuals in all their complexity of various situations, and to respect their consciences when it comes to moral decisions. (George Therookattil, “Pope Francis’ Moral and Pastoral Approach in Amoris Laetitia, 2017.)
Even though Pope Francis spoke of the ‘need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the church’ (EG 103), many find him continuing on a conservative note as his predecessors without bringing a radical change on the gender question. All the same, even his critics find his position on clericalism very striking. He has consistently spoken against clericalism, by calling the” the evil of clericalism” as “a mistaken way of living out the ecclesiology proposed by the Second Vatican Council.” Denouncing clericalism, he affirms the role of laity in the Church. In his words: “When that comes – when the ‘Hour of the Laity’ finally strikes – it will mean the prophetic fire has been lit, consigning clericalism to the past where it should belong.” (Letter to the President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, 2016).
Without doubt, in Francis we have a Pope who through his freeing leadership witnesses to the world a new and different way of being Church today. His attempts to give a more human face to the Church in a way that makes the heart of God more tangible, may be disconcerting to many. Yet, the Spirit blows where it wills, and it is undeniable that in the person of Pope Francis, the world encounters the human touch of the Spirit.
by Julian Filochowski
(This presentation given in Georgetown, Guyana, on April 21st 2016 involved taking phrases from many excellent articles and analyses in Thinking Faith, America magazine and elsewhere. If appropriate reference is missing I offer my apologies.)
Laudato Si is ‘a great and timely gift to humanity’ says Jeffrey Sachs, one of the most distinguished economists of our time. It has been applauded by the world’s political leaders North and South, by scientists and by theologians and people across the planet, in the Church and far beyond, who care about the future of our world and its peoples.
But the most powerful praise came from the conservative US TV Channel, Fox News, where, after flicking through it, they declared “Francis is the most dangerous person on the planet”. What a magnificent plaudit! Praise indeed.
Evangelii Gaudium (EG) – The Joy of the Gospel
198 “That is why I want a poor Church for the poor….. to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, and to lend our voice to their causes.” As he did himself last week visiting refugees in Lesbos.
53 “Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
55 “The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money...”
2 “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. ….there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. This is a very real danger for believers too.”
84 “At times we have to listen, much to our regret, to the voices of people who… can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. We feel that we must disagree with those prophets of doom who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.” (himself quoting here Pope John XXIII)
49 “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security... my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: Give them something to eat (Mk 6:37).”
Laudato Si’ (LS)
They are not laid out in this pithy format by Pope Francis but they are indirectly present in Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si – and his teaching is the riposte and the antidote to this depressing quintet of abominable one-liners. Let’s be clear that far from offering a naïve condemnation of capitalism, as some critics have suggested, Laudato Si provides a sharp and intelligent critique of the fundamental limitations and failings of the market economy especially when it spectacularly fails to provide for the poor. 5
1 Damian Howard SJ, Thinking Faith, 18 June 2015
2 Cardinal Peter Turkson, 2 November 2015 http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/11/03/cardinal_turkson_speaks_on_laudato_si_in_us/1183983
3 Henry Longbottom SJ
5 James Martin SJ http://americamagazine.org/top-ten-takeaways-laudato-si
by Ralph Coelho
Pope Francis has captivated many common Catholics but caused much dismay among the teachers and preachers. The former wait eagerly for their daily dose of the reality and simplicity of God's will in his various utterances the latter are dismayed by apparently of-the-cuff remarks and openings to relativistic morality that undermines the absolute morality that prohibits artificial contraception, divorce and adultery. His remark "Who am I to judge" to a query of the his attitude to the LGBT community scandalised many priests and bishops who believed that as Defender of the Faith he should condemn them out of hand. Others believe that he is asking that we think in more detail and check if it is sinful behaviour being condemned or a class of people. In the letter case it is causing scandal and is condemnable as a possibility of leading others into sin. Jesus particularly condemned those whose words or behaviour were a "stumbling block to the simple ones".
Pope Francis is not a Pope in the mould of the previous Popes just as he is not in the same mould of most human persons. It is natural for humans to enter into the persona, the culture of the rank to which they are raised and in behaviour to fit in with peers. Even to openly aspire for a higher rank. Francis set a precedent by appearing before the faithful across the world in the simple cassock in which he was elected. Later he went back to the hostel where he stayed with other attendees at the Consistory and did not live in the Papal apartments. However, he did receive visiting dignitaries at the Papal apartments assigning them their due dignity.
Pope Francis went much further in eliminating ceremonial in his public lands life. He kissed babies and embraced sick persons when he passed through crowds, he called up people on the telephone and his homilies at mass were as down to earth as any parish priest could be. They demonstrated his view of New Evangelisation whose need was enunciated by Paul VI. He gave simple but non-traditional interpretations of the Bible in his homilies, encouraging reader and students of the Bible to make an effort to discern what God was saying to them in their state of life.
When he spoke about the householder who rented out his vineyard he went beyond the traditional rebuke to the people of Israel. Instead he speaks about God continuing to love, of wanting to show his mercy in new wine. I think it equally applies to anyone who is placed in a role of supervising others and he exploits them instead of improving their lot. Particularly parents in regard to the upbringing of their children When he spoke about the Good Samaritan he asked about the role of the innkeeper. John XXIII allowed his Bishops to throw out the agenda prepared by his Curia for Vatican II and prepare their agenda appropriate to their situations.
In regard to divorced and remarried couples I believe he is asking us to show mercy to the couple who understand the enormity of their offence against the community and are now torn between acceptance of their penance (to separate) and damage to the state of the children they have received as gifts. Allow them to live as brother and sister and do not assume they continue to commit the act of adultery. We do acknowledge that the marriage must be consummated!
They may be asked to receive communion at a distant church to avoid scandal. This may be interpreted as casuistry by theologians who are rigorous; this would leave little scope for mercy that is the sinners last hope. I would however agree the possibility of a person being misled to commit sin driven by strong emotions in anticipation of God's mercy. I was taught that this was the sin of PRESUMPTION, a sin that did not figure amongst the capital sins. This could easily happen in the current climate of the individual's right to absolute freedom in sexual expression that denies any form of sexual relationship behaviour is a personal choice.
Some critics refer to Veritatis Splendor. I believe they should read the Theology of the Body that preceded it by many years and developed a Christian anthropology and clarified the meaning of unity, spousal fidelity and chastity in marriage. The Nuptial Meaning of the Body is related to experience of Adam and Eve and the gift of self.
by Chris McDonnell
(Reproduced with the author's permission from The Catholic Times, 29 September 2017)
Early in his ministry as Bishop of Rome, Francis put the principle of a Church of the Poor at the forefront of his teaching. A Church that is poor, speaking to those who are poor. It was-and is-a clear statement of intent that he has not wavered from. Indeed, his very name, taken at the consistory that elected him indicated his chosen path. His subsequent personal actions reinforced that perspective, a simple taste in vestments, a car that was certainly not ‘top of the range’ and living arrangements that rejected the allocated papal apartments. All in all, a man who tries to lead by example, to say it 'as it is'.
What does this mean for the Church in the world and what does it mean in particular for the Vatican? In its two thousand years, the Church has been ‘European looking outward’, preaching a Christ that reflects our values and prejudices, offering a particular view of Church that ignored the necessary inculturation with peoples in other places. When it was attempted those in authority were often none too pleased. Sometimes sanctions were imposed.
Yet beyond our European shores there was a richness that was being neglected. To talk of a Church of the Poor now is to talk of the vast majority of Christians who live in the Third World.
There is a challenge that faces us in the West, a challenge that our rich world has yet to come to terms with. Society has come to accept a ‘cult of money’ as the parameter of success. We want more, the newest, the biggest and best.
Fashions change so last year’s ‘must haves’ get discarded and the Charity shops abound with goods for a cheap quick sale. That their profit goes to a good cause is not in question for without the necessary income they could not help those in need. But is a symptom of our cultural excess.
by Joseph Mattam SJ
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first South American, became Pope on 13 March 2013. From the very beginning he gave the impression of being a different type of pope. His most outstanding trait is his love for the poor. He feels at home in the company of the poor; he takes a personal interest in them; he is convinced that the poor must be the centre of our attention, of our love. At the end of his visit to Lesbos he took a number of Muslim Syrian refugees under his protection. It is also reported that often he invites poor people to join him when he has his meals at the hostel where he lives. He keeps reminding us that we need to build more bridges and not walls as suggested by President Trump.
Along with this love for the poor goes his very special care of refugees. He encourages all countries to welcome them and opposes those who close their borders to refugees. He cares especially for the children of migrants and refugees as they are the most vulnerable, with no possibility of an education, and at risk of being sexually exploited. He never misses an opportunity to come to the help of migrants, the poor, prisoners, the disabled and all those the world considers as unworthy of our attention and love. To see him interacting with the poorest of the poor is a wonderful example of the living gospel in our times.
Another important thrust we find in this Pope is his love for nature and its protection. Laudato si brings new elements to the social doctrine of the Church, emphasizing the link between nature and creation. The impact of this encyclical is immeasurable and immense. It brings to light uncomfortable and universal truths like our rampant anthropocentrism and the greed of the free market economic system. Concern for nature is a moral issue and humans cannot afford to ignore it. In this encyclical he calls for an “ecological conversion”; he reminds us that nature is a book through which God reveals self and speaks to us. That is why he appeals to us to protect our environment and support international efforts to save our planet. This encyclical helps us to turn away from resignation and despair and instead choose commitment to the preservation of nature and creation.