The sig­nif­i­cance of Pope Fran­cis

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - Ru­dolf C. Here­dia

ONLY through col­le­gial gov­er­nance and a de­cen­tralised pa­pacy can the bishop of Rome re­build a par­tic­i­pa­tive, wit­ness­ing Church and stymie a cler­i­calised one. The elec­tion of Car­di­nal Jorge Mario Ber­goglio, 76, as the 266th suc­ces­sor to the See of St. Peter in Rome is sig­nif­i­cant for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons: the first pope from out­side Europe in over a thou­sand years; the first Je­suit ever in the Or­der's near 500 year his­tory; a deeply spir­i­tual man ded­i­cated to a pas­toral lead­er­ship of ser­vice. As Car­di­nal Arch­bishop of Buenos Aires he stayed not in the bishop's palace but in an apart­ment. He pre­ferred us­ing pub­lic trans­port to a chauf­feured limou­sine, cook­ing his own meals. Though not overly po­lit­i­cal, he doesn't shy away from the im­pact of the po­lit­i­cal and so­cial of the Gospel mes­sage; known as a con­ser­va­tive but also as a man of com­mu­nion and di­a­logue; has worked on the Synod of Bish­ops but is not an in­sider to the Vat­i­can. As a Je­suit, he has held key of­fices, in­clud­ing that of novice master and pro­vin­cial su­pe­rior. And Je­suit spir­i­tu­al­ity is writ­ten into his re­li­gious DNA.

Such a com­plex and rich back­ground leaves Catholics with equally mul­ti­ple and di­verse ex­pec­ta­tions. One can't an­tic­i­pate how his pa­pacy will un­fold as his past ex­pe­ri­ence im­pacts his present re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, as he makes a new fu­ture for the Church. Cer­tainly, a Latin Amer­i­can pope will in­flu­ence the Church there, as Euro­pean popes be­fore.

How­ever, there seem to be clues al­ready in his first few days of of­fice. In his first speech to the city of Rome and to the world, "urbi et orbi", he be­gins with a dis­arm­ingly in­for­mal "good evening," and ends with a friendly "good­night, sleep well"! He refers to him­self as the "bishop of Rome" and in­vites them to be­gin to­gether "this jour­ney, the Bishop and peo­ple, this jour­ney of the Church of Rome, which pre­sides in char­ity over all the Churches, a jour­ney of brother­hood in love, of mu­tual trust. Let us al­ways pray for one an­other. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brother­hood." Be­fore he gives his bless­ing, he asks the peo­ple "for a favour first" to pray for "their bishop … in si­lence". And fi­nally he as­sures them that he will "pray to the Madonna to pro­tect Rome."

Surely this does not presage an im­pe­rial pa­pacy ex­er­cis­ing domi- nance. He is not a hi­er­arch nor a su­per­star, not a recluse ei­ther, but a brother pil­grim! He did not re­fer to him­self as 'Pope'. The Car­di­nal dea­con had an­nounced: "habe­mus Pa­pam", we have a Pope, but what we see is only Fran­cis, a pas­tor be­gin­ning a jour­ney with his peo­ple, pre­sent­ing him­self as the bishop of Rome in col­le­gial­ity with his brother bish­ops.

How­ever, there is no turn­ing back from the core agenda of the Coun­cil: the Church as the pil­grim peo­ple of God en­livened by the Word of God, rather than a pyra­mi­dal in­sti­tu­tion hi­er­ar­chi­cal con­trolled; the need for a graded de­vo­lu­tion of author­ity to re­gional syn­ods and lo­cal churches; to cel­e­brate an in­cul­tur­ated sa­cred liturgy rather than an an­tique pas­sive rite, to open to the mod­ern world in the ser­vice of faith and the pro­mo­tion of jus­tice; in ec­u­meni­cal and in­ter-re­li­gious di­a­logue; with re­spect for the hu­man dig­nity and re­li­gious lib­erty of all, a com­mu­nity of per­sons, not a bu­reau­cracy of in­sti­tu­tion­alised roles.




im­pos­si­ble agenda, one which nei­ther the pope nor the bish­ops can ef­fec­tively tackle alone or sep­a­rately. The Coun­cil urged the pri­macy of the bishop of Rome as a ser­vice of sol­i­dar­ity and a guar­an­tor of unity in the Church. Con­trol can en­force uni­for­mity, it can­not in­spire unity. The pope with the bish­ops in col­le­gial­ity to­gether au­then­ti­cate a com­mu­nion of the churches. The colos­sal scan­dals and even more the dam­ag­ing fail­ure to ad­dress th­ese ad­e­quately are stark tes­ti­mony of the lim­i­ta­tions of the present bu­reau­cratic struc­tures, and the need for change, re­form, ren­o­va­tion. The mod­ern world is far too com­plex and the Church to­day far too large to be ef­fec­tively cen­tralised. Only col­le­gial gov­er­nance around an au­then­tic cen­tre, the pope with the bish­ops, not an ei­ther/or di­chotomy be­tween them, can ef­fec­tively re­build a par­tic­i­pa­tive, wit­ness­ing Church, and stymie a cler­i­calised one. Will Fran­cis be the man to me­di­ate all this?

When liv­ing out­side the town in a lit­tle di­lap­i­dated chapel, the saint of As­sisi heard a voice: "Fran­cis, Fran­cis, build my Church." And un­tu­tored as he was in the new life he was called to, he be­gan lit­er­ally to re­build the chapel with his bare hands. And thus be­gan the Fran­cis­can re­newal of the me­dieval Church. To­day the Catholic Church needs a Fran­cis to re­build it again. Jorge Mario Ber­goglio must surely have re­mem­bered that charm­ing story when he ac­cepted the pa­pacy and chose the name Fran­cis.

Cer­tainly it will not be an easy or straight­for­ward re­con­struc­tion, and we can eas­ily be­come crit­i­cal and cyn­i­cal along the way. It's im­mensely dif­fi­cult and some­times seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble to walk in the shoes of the fish­er­man. So be­fore we rush to judg­ment we would do well to re­mem­ber the old proverb about with­hold­ing our judg­ment till we walk in the other's shoes. But we can only imag­ine Pope Fran­cis's awe­some task.

Good Pope John XXIII who was elected at 78 sur­prised the world and shocked the Ro­man Curia, the cen­tralised bu­reau­cracy of the Catholic Church, call­ing a Coun­cil in the 4th year of his papa- cy for an ag­gior­na­mento, i.e., to up­date the Catholic Church. The rest is his­tory, but it is still con­tested, though a very hope­ful one. Pope Fran­cis must now take this for­ward into a re­newed fu­ture, as he with the bish­ops re­builds the Church to­gether with all peo­ple of good­will. This I be­lieve is the sig­nif­i­cance of the elec­tion of the first non-Euro­pean pope in a mil­len­nium.

The sig­nif­i­cance of the first Je­suit pope is still to un­ravel. The is­sue is whether the elec­tion of a Je­suit pope really in­di­cates a greater ac­cep­tance of the Or­der to­day, or whether it merely ex­presses the con­fi­dence in one man who hap­pens to be a Je­suit. The elec­tion of the first Je­suit pope comes just a year be­fore the bi-cen­te­nary of the restora­tion of the So­ci­ety of Je­sus by Pius VII in 1814, af­ter its sup­pres­sion by Cle­ment XIV in 1773; and 32 years af­ter John Paul II had sus­pended the nor­mal ad­min­is­tra­tion of the so­ci­ety and im­posed his del­e­gate on the or­der, 1981-1983.

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