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.
as given in Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) & Laudato Si (On Care for Our Common Home)
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
- The 2015 encyclical Laudato Si is the main course of our meal today. But a little earlier on, in 2013, Francis gave us a first course (a starter or appetizer) with his apostolic exhortation, EG. They are both authoritative teaching documents of the Church – not press conference interviews or unscripted off-the-cuff comments that can be ignored. The Old Testament Prophets - Samuel, Jeremiah and Amos - often interject in their text: “It is the Lord who speaks”. So, from time to time, I should perhaps interject: “It is the Magisterium of the Church who speaks”.
- But EG is in a starkly different tone and style from what we are used to in documents coming from Rome. Pope Francis writes in warm, familiar and down-to-earth language, with wit and affection - but also with harsh words. Harsh words especially for elitism and clericalism in the Church, harsh words for materialism and selfish individualism, and harsh words for indifference to social injustice and the deteriorating plight of the poor.
- EG has two fundamental focuses: first, transforming the way we live as Church and reenergising us to become a genuinely ‘missionary Church’ and all of us ‘missionary disciples; and second, putting the poor back where they belong at the very heart of the Church’s mission. So, joyful missionary disciples and an authentic option for the poor.
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.
- Francis repeats over and over again, like a mantra, ‘Realities are more important than ideas’. Realities are more important than ideas! So with that in mind he looks at the realities in our world and in the Church and holds a mirror up for us to see ourselves.
- He criticises the economy of exclusion and inequality which dominates our world,
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?”
- Then he takes aim at the materialistic culture and the worship of money.
55 “The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money...”
- But especially he lambasts the rampant compulsive consumerism where ethics have evaporated.
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.”
- Francis laments what he describes as ‘the globalisation of indifference’ to suffering and hardship in our world today, an expression which he returns to frequently. It stands alongside a similar phrase used by the Jesuit Father General, Adolfo Nicolás, ‘the globalisation of superficiality’ to which we are subjected in the media.
- Finally, he rejects the sterile pessimism of the prophets of gloom in the Church.
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)
- Francis vigorously restates the pivotal teaching of Vatican II and uses its language and concepts which were beginning to fade away. Although EG does not anywhere seek to overturn traditional Church teaching it certainly does seek to overturn (and is fearless in doing so) the way we have done things, our praxis, our practice, the way we translate that teaching into pastoral programmes, the way we minister to our people, the way we pass on that teaching to our communities. Fine teaching without effective pastoral action is empty, sterile and void. He points us to a new way of being Church today - a Church in every locality close to and in solidarity with the poor, making their cause our own – in short, a Faith which discerns the signs of the times and then does Justice. A Faith that does Justice!
- And he points to an appropriately decentralised Church, an inculturated Church, which embraces subsidiarity within that global solidarity. Solidarity and subsidiarity are the twin pillars of Catholic Social Teaching. The Option for the Poor is a call to all of us without exception. But the manifestation of an authentic option for the poor in Guyana will be different from the UK, from India or from Brazil.
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).”
- The model of the Church Francis wants is a field hospital where the battered and weary are welcomed with compassion and where they can find comfort and support – in a word he wants a Church characterised by mercy, a Church clothed in mercy.
- So a poor church in terms of economic clout and political power but a rich church too - rich in mercy, which means rich in compassion and solidarity, rich in inclusiveness and rich in accompaniment, standing alongside and breaking bread with those many struggling on the pilgrim journey.
- And hence 2016, this Holy Year of Mercy and Misericordiae Vultus as the dessert for our meal!
Laudato Si’ (LS)
- ‘Laudato Si - Care for Our Common Home’ constitutes a substantive addition to the corpus of Catholic Social Teaching. The encyclical is of equivalent importance to Pacem in Terris (PT) (and arguably even Rerum Novarum). Like John XXIII’s PT, which inspired world leaders with a moral vision when the world seemed in danger of nuclear war and planetary catastrophe, today, LS comes at a time of potential ecological disaster and is again addressed to all people of good will. It is above all a call for dialogue with honesty and transparency to involve all persons and peoples, institutions, and organisations that share this same deep concern for our common home.
- Given his mantra ‘Reality is more important than Ideas’ he wants the perspective of the poor to be heard, understood, felt and smelt by the upper ranks in the Church and in society. It is exposure to reality that can change us; ideas have an altogether more ephemeral presence in our lives 1. And lack of physical encounter with the problems of the excluded leads to a numbing of consciences. It is not therefore surprising to find a ‘See-Judge-Act’ logic to this encyclical. It is a letter which is for universal reading but for local application by us here in Guyana– especially as paragraph 38 is explicitly about our rainforest, ‘those richly biodiverse lungs of our planet’ which need special protection.
- So the first reality he examines is the state of planet earth, Our Common Home - and the Rerum Novarum of our day, “the new problems” of social exclusion and environmental degradation that threaten that common home.
- LS does not enter directly into the scientific debate which would be inappropriate as it is not the Church’s expertise (188). But he presents with great clarity a summary of the solid scientific consensus that exists. Greenhouse gas emissions are rising fast, dangerously disrupting the climate system, undermining the life support systems of the planet for humanity and millions of other species, and posing a grave threat to sustainable development everywhere. “The climate is a common good belonging to all and meant for all” (23). The earth groans under the awful burden of pollution and degradation. “The earth, our home, he laments, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” (21). The earth cries for the destruction of biodiversity, of entire species disappearing because of human carelessness. It weeps dry tears because water is misused and the deserts are growing 2. Pope Francis invites us to be still and to listen to these sufferings. The cry of the earth.
- “Our common home is falling into serious disrepair” (61). “Degrading the earth, stripping it of its natural forests, contaminating its water, its air, its land - these are sins” (8). “If we scan the planet we see that humanity has disappointed God’s expectations” (61). The worst impacts of climate change will be felt by developing countries; the gravest effects of pollution of air and water and the environmental destruction of plants, forests, soils and rivers will be suffered disproportionately by the poorest people and the poorest communities. The quick and easy profits from destruction of the forest habitat and extraction of minerals are destroying lives and livelihoods across the Amazon Basin and across the planet. Inequality which grows and grows is allowed, encouraged and defended. The plight of the poor & marginalised and the plight of the earth are inseparable; and Laudato Si urges us to integrate justice questions into the environmental debate. (48)
- Time and again Francis insists: The cry of the earth and the cry of the poor are a single cry. “We are not faced with two separate crises one environmental and the other social,” one on the coast and the other in the interior “but rather with one complex crisis, requiring an integrated approach to combatting poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded and at the same time protecting nature.” (139)
- Francis describes and heaps criticism on what he calls the technocratic paradigm or the technocratic approach that reduces all of reality including human life to objects that are open to endless manipulation for the sake of profit - and with the false hope that ecological problems can be solved by throwing money at them, with just a few tweaks to the economic system 3. The economic system relies on this technocratic mind-set and is ready ruthlessly to exploit the resources of the planet in pursuit of an increase in so-called progress, meaning unending growth and profit accumulation. The cosmos is viewed “as a mere ‘space’ into which objects can be thrown with complete indifference” (115) God is absent and ethics and morality are gradually banished from the discussion. But the economy can serve our human well-being only if it is kept within a moral framework for the common good. Today the global market economy thrives in a dark twisted forest of injustice, too often unchallenged, anchored to an addictive consumerism and an egotistical throwaway culture. This is already bringing mutilation to our common home and cruel abuse, impoverishment, and forced migration to its most vulnerable inhabitants - and there is little or no thought for the next generation. “We may well be leaving to the poor of the future debris, desolation and filth” (161). But “the environment is on loan to each generation who must then hand it on to the next” (159). Intergenerational solidarity is not optional but rather a basic question of justice.
- Analysts 5 have isolated 4 evil myths spoken or unspoken which lurk and grow today just beneath the surface whilst morality is gradually excluded from the discussion and we get ethics-free pockets or zones in Britain, in India, in Brazil, and I imagine in Guyana. Those five obscene affirmations are:
- Greed is Good,
- Exclusion is Necessary,
- Elitism is Efficient,
- Prejudice is Natural, and
- Despair is Inevitable.
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
- Many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of opposition from powerful vested economic interests which trump the common good but also because of a more general lack of interest. So we see “superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern, and genuine attempts at change are viewed often as nuisances based on romantic illusions” (54). Obstructionist attitudes, even from members of the Church, can range from “denial of the problem to cynicism and indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions.” (14) So, that globalised indifference and that globalised superficiality clearly have to be tackled. “Many of those who possess more resources seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms” (26). Too many of us “can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices” (36).
- Many things have to change but it is we human beings above all who need to change. Awareness of the gravity of the crisis must be translated into new habits. So Francis urges everyone – individuals, families, local communities, nations and the international community - to change direction by taking on responsibility for the task of caring for our common home. To change direction for us in the Church, we are told, means an ‘ecological conversion’ - to alter our very seeing, judging and acting. An ecological conversion is essential to turn our ideas and intuitions into an authentic lived ecological spirituality, that will guide us towards a wholesome personal lifestyle and to committing ourselves to service and the exercise of political responsibility. “A commitment to this ‘change of direction’ cannot be sustained by doctrine alone without a spirituality capable of inspiring us…that nourishes and gives meaning to our individual and communal activity” (216).
- Francis writes of his deep concern, his deep love, being touched deeply and thinking deeply; and for us to deal with ever present superficiality and confront this technocratic paradigm he wants us too to go deep and to contemplate in depth, to drink deep at the well-springs of the Spirit - and to leave behind simplistic headlines and banal twitter feed. He is again affirming that spirituality of creation.
- The key element in this ecological conversion is a willingness to resist the present-day consumer culture. The major economic and political changes necessary across the world can never take place unless they are underpinned by widespread personal and community conversion. Borrowing a notorious phrase from Mao Tse Tung he declares “There is an urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution”. And before we cast the first stone at governments and corporations we must first remove the plank from our own eyes. We need to cultivate ecological virtues and move away from a duty-based ethics (which people never like) to virtue ethics, from “we have to” to “we want to” whether in terms of our water and electricity usage, our recycling, planting trees or whatever. We begin to make the transition from good stewardship of creation, which is relatively easy, to friendship and communion with creation, which is much harder. Make no mistake: ecological conversion requires a massive shift.
- The theological reflection in Laudato Si recognises that many Christians have misinterpreted the words of Genesis 1 “to have dominion over the earth” as allowing the unbridled exploitation of nature and the rupture of the relationship with the earth. But he bluntly reminds us “We are not God” (67). “This rupture is sin” (66). Genesis 2 instructs us to “‘till and keep’ the garden of the world – ‘tilling’ means cultivating or working while ‘keeping’ means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving” (67). There is no place at all for ravaging the earth unconcerned for other creatures. But Francis is leaving behind not only rape and pillage of the earth; he is also guiding us on from wise stewardship and management of the natural world (as set out by Popes Benedict XVI & John Paul II) towards communion with the natural world, to an affective caring relationship with creation which engages our feelings, our emotions, our passion and our love. It’s not just being stupidly sentimental about the environment – it’s a response to the poisoning of our rivers and creeks by mercury from gold-mining enterprises, and to the pile of filth! “God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment and the extinction of species as a painful disfigurement” (EG 215).
- Reminding us that human life is grounded in three fundamental relationships – with God, with neighbour and with the earth itself, LS underlines that every created thing is connected to every other created thing. There is not just an instrumental value but an intrinsic value in non-human species, he says, – but absolutely not on the same plane as human beings in their uniqueness. The priority then is of ‘being’ over ‘being useful’; and because of this, biodiversity must be protected.
- Francis seems to be discarding altogether the anthropocentric perspective – which makes man the measure of all value – man as God. But he equally rejects any sort of New Age ecocentric view (Goddess earth) and explicitly outlaws any pantheistic interpretations. Instead he puts in place, what we might call, a theocentric synthesis of his own which respects the fundamental interconnectedness and brings man into right relationships with God, with other human beings, and with creation. “We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it” (139). LS has in this way articulated an ‘integral ecology’.
- Laudato Si is profoundly a message of optimism. The Creator does not abandon us. It is calling on humanity to use reason and faith together to create one world as a common home where the economy is once again bound by the common good and in which the common good is no longer confined to the good of humans but embraces reverence for the physical Earth and other species. It is extending the Common Good. It’s now truly the cosmic common good. “The preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters” and for the earth “is today an ethical imperative for effectively attaining the common good” (158).
- LS looks back for inspiration to St Francis of Assisi who preached love for nature and it looks forward to practical solutions in our time to creating a new economic system that harnesses technology and morality to save the planet from the spiral of self-destruction. And he says to each and every one of us: you know what you should do. No more excuses. Just Do It!
- But bring it continually into your prayer life, perhaps seeking the intercession of Mary, ’Mother and Queen of All Creation’ and especially to your celebration of the Eucharist. “The Eucharist joins heaven and earth – it embraces and penetrates all creation…The Eucharist is an act of cosmic love” (236). It is a source of light and motivation for us to cherish and protect all of creation (236). Amen.
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.