"It is the very words of Pope Francis that encapsulate his prophetic mission."
(Weeks ago, several Catholic bishops from the Amazon region gathered in Rome upon the call of Pope Francis for the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to discuss and address the pastoral and spiritual needs of the Catholic Church in the region, especially among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.
It is anticipated that this gathering will result in a number sweeping reforms in the pastoral life of the local churches, including the ordination of married men—viri probati—to the ministry. This will perhaps be one of the pope’s most widely criticized acts, thus leading me to share these thoughts about Pope Francis that I earlier posted on my Facebook account.)
In this day and age, modern man appears to be in no need for prophets. In a time of ever-increasing technological sophistication, where social media has become the dominant instrument of connectivity and communication—in a world that grows smaller by the day —prophets have become a thing of the ancient past. Besides, who would have need for prophets at a time when contemporary society is obsessed with reason and logic, in our age; when all that most men seem to care about are comfort and convenience, if not greed, for personal profit? Why the need for prophets, when power—political, social and economic—provide contentment to the convenient, not necessarily the righteous, conscience? Why the need for prophets when people would rather listen to the idols of the own idiosyncrasies, of gods fashioned by the whims and wants of man. Why listen to prophets when nations, societies and even families are more obsessed searching for what is expedient, acceptable or fashionable? Who would listen to prophets in a time when modernity has engulfed our society in a self-consumed understanding of everything around us, blinded by a self-referential standard of what is right, truthful and fair?
But listening to Pope Francis, the 266th successor to Peter the fisherman, one cannot be but surprised, inspired and even captivated by the freshness, the vitality and the relevance of a prophetic message. Just like a prophet, he presents the message of his mission without frills or pretenses, but with absolute honesty, sincerity and frankness. By just listening to his words (or reading them), one can clearly see through the clarity and courage of his conviction, a man who is consumed by the commitment he has for God and the Church.
Years have gone by since his election, and by now, there is no doubt that a period of renewal has come with the Bergoglio papacy. He taken a simpler and less formal approach to the papal office, being the first pope in many years not to reside in the papal apartments in the Vatican but instead chose to live close to his staff at the Domus Sancta Martha, in a desire to avoid isolation that comes with the high office. Like a shepherd, he came to the papacy wanting to be with the lowly, the least and lost in his flock – his first trip outside Rome, to the Mediterranean island of Lempedusa to meet illegal immigrants, many of them Muslims, who risked life and limb in search for a better life in Italy. During his first trip, he celebrated the Eucharist using a wooden chalice and with a wooden pastoral staff in hand-—during which he called for a “reawakening of consciences” to counteract “global indifference.”
Many stories have already been told on the media about this “Franciscan revolution” which very well echoes Saint Pope John XXIII’s vision of a new springtime for the Church. We have heard stories of his down to earth approach in meeting his flock, his very open attitude to dialogue even with people of different faiths or even those who profess none. There are news accounts of him personally calling through telephone the people who write to him about their problems and sufferings. He has also called for a renewal in the Roman Curia, the central administration of the universal Church and has expressed his preference for a greater participation of the local church, that is, the dioceses in the life, mission and activity of the entire Church.
But more than just the gestures, it is the very words of Pope Francis that encapsulate his prophetic mission. In a world that nowadays think evil is but an abstraction, on more than one occasion he strongly affirms that evil is real. In a world where people find an adverse obsession with power, he has captivated the world not only with his appearances of humility and simplicity, but his sincere and honest expression of his own “sinfulness” and his reliance in God’s mercy. In fact, in a world that is often cold and unforgiving, he never fails to remind people of the reality of God’s compassion and love.
(To be continued next week)