Eight years after his election, the small decided steps of Pope Francis
A chronicle by Charles Delhez.
François celebrated this March 13 the eighth anniversary of his election. Regularly, the rumor circulates of his resignation, but it is still there, and I am delighted. He is the Pope I dreamed of for these difficult times. From the first evening, everyone could perceive the change of tone. Refusing all pomp, denouncing pious worldliness and living close to his collaborators, this deeply Franciscan Jesuit Pope made the Church close and cordial. Her gestures, her phone calls, her emails, her visits – and recently to Edith Bruck, survivor of Auschwitz – her tweets are reminiscent of Saint Francis’ Fioretti.
Benedict XVI was a theologian in love with the truth; François, a pastor in love with charity. Happy alternation. Amply contested internally, even in the proud Curie, and externally, by the conservatives, he is, as someone close to him, “the freest man I have met”. He leaves no one indifferent. Any prophet disturbs and cleaves, those of the Bible as well as the others.
Its trump card is consistency. Its center of gravity, the Gospel. His style, which he wishes for every Christian, that of Jesus. It brings, even in the big media which put it in the front page, the freshness of a perfume of the Gospel. Of course, there are no great doctrinal novelties, but another angle of approach, another “way of proceeding”. It is not a revolution, but a change of course, and it is taking small, determined steps, especially with regard to the place of women.
Open to the world
Before reforming the Church, a task entrusted to him by the Conclave, he wanted to take her out of the sacristies, decentralize her and open her up to the “geographical and existential peripheries”, on the edge of our society of abundance or of the Church of the Righteous. He pays particular attention to places of suffering. His particularly risky trip to Iraq is a dazzling illustration of this. His first papal visit, less than three months after his election, was to Lampedusa, the European island where so many migrants land. He is concerned about the fate of the Rohingyas, the Uyghurs, the Yazidis. His concern for ecology, which he associates with social questions, has gone beyond the borders of the Church with his encyclical Laudato si ‘ and its synod on the Amazon. According to him, nature is respectable in itself and not only in its relationship to man and the use he makes of it. And there is no shortage of harsh words about the harmful effects of globalization and denounces “post-modern colonization”.
Our world will emerge from it only through an additional fraternity between peoples and religions, in particular with Islam. Fratelli tutti is the title of his last encyclical. He multiplies his messages with a universal vocation through interviews, films, books and he embodies them by making himself a “pilgrim of peace” and comforter of the afflicted.
Reform the Church
It was also necessary to purify this old and powerful institution, as Jesus did by driving the vendors out of the Temple. He did not hesitate to make heads fall to put the finances in order, to speak truthfully about the sexual abuses which plague our society and from which we could have hoped that the Church was unscathed.
He made a real change in governance. “Synodality” (walking together, the theme of the next synod) replaces an overly centralized mode. In his documents, he always quotes the bishops of other countries and continents. He prefers to see contradictions as contrapositions, as poles in tension which generate a dynamic and coexist in a greater unity. Its mode of government is in the line of community discernment dear to the Jesuits rather than in debate. His favorite image: the geometric figure of the polyhedron, a unit, but each part of which has its particularity, its charisma.
This Church, a “country hospital” and not the customs of salvation, he wants it as a flashlight which accompanies the road and not as a blind lighthouse. It is perhaps in his moral discourse that the change is most evident. Instead of constantly reiterating the rules, he prefers to take into account each person’s specific situation. Mercy – “Who am I to judge?” – and compassion have taken the place of a discourse appearing to many intolerant.
To the source
François is a deeply spiritual man. Every decision springs from prayer and contemplation. Christ is at the center of his life. His daily mass at the Ste-Marthe chapel is the place where he distills his spiritual message in all simplicity. Refusing any temptation to reconquer or close one’s identity, he constantly returns to the essentials of the Christian message – “You are loved by God” – and testifies to divine paternity by walking in fraternity. With our feet on the ground, he urges us to look, like Abraham, towards the starry sky.