On 11th February 2013, the whole world was in shock or surprice or both in equal measure, when Pope Benedict XVI announced to the Cardinals and those present of his desire to retire. As we all know, in his resignation speech that he read in Latin,...a part of his speech is as follows ,
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the l ast few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”
This announcement became a subject of interest from all circles, begining with Print, Visual Social Media, Church meetings, Prayer groups, religious communities, other denominations and faiths, the politicians, the places of work and so on. It was a shockwave that was represented by the lightning that lit on the dome of St. Peter's Squire the same day that the Pope resigned.
The next big question beyond the speculation of why the Pope resigned was who the next Pope will be. This was so much pronounced by the secular Media, since in their exitment and social media frenzy, they wanted to offer answers that either never existed, or answers that were speculative from the eyes of an outsider. Yet as it is often said, ' Where lack of information is, rumours prevail'...
This question of 'who' was answered on this day of 13th March 2013, at 19:06 PM in the 5th Ballot of voting. The Conclave of Cardinals, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the judgement of their conscience elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, as Pope. Well, call it the second Media frenzy. The world might have known Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio a bit too little to point him out among a croud of Cardinals. He was little known to the larger world, but not little known to the Argentinian Church, not to mention in his own Jesuit Society. The college of Cardinals too had known him and had put his name in the ballot in the pravious Conclave.
The first sight of the newly elected Pope on this day 5 years ago at the Balcony of St. Peter's Squire was amazing, astonishing, confusing, but all in all exiting to say the least. It seemed exiting because we knew that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was somewhere there watching the unfolding story of the election of his succesor. It was exiting because we had now a new Pope.
When the Pope appeared at the Balcony, there is something that seemed missing. This brought confusion a little. If we remember about other Popes' election announcements, they appeared dressed in the normal Papal robes (White) without the Red Papal Matel worn on the sholders, neither with golden Cruxifix or red shoes. He just appeared simple and innocently smiling and waving at the croud in the squire. It seemed to him that the turn of events from being a Cardinal of Buenos Aires to being the Bishop of Rome and the Supreme Leader of the Catholic Church brought a blessing and a cross upon him.
From that very beginning, we were sure this Pope will be of a different kind. Starting from his simple Papal vesting, to his first opening words, ' "
"...Fratelli e sorelle buonasera. Voi sapete che il dovere del Conclave è di dare un Vescovo a Roma. Sembra che i miei fratelli cardinali sono andati a prenderlo quasi alla fine del mondo. Ma siamo qui... ..... Adesso vorrei dare la benedizione, ma prima vi chiedo un favore. Prima che il Vescovo benedica il popolo io vi chiedo che voi pregate il Signore perchè mi benedica: la preghiera del popolo chiedendo la benedizione per il suo Vescovo. Facciamo in silenzio questa preghiera di voi su di me"."Adesso darò la benedizione a voi e a tutto il mondo, a tutti gli uomini e donne di buona volontà....",
"...Brothers and sisters, good evening.
You all know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother Cardinals have come almost to the ends of the Earth to get him ... but here we are...
And now I would like to give the blessing, but first I want to ask you a favor. Before the bishop blesses the people, I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me — the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer — your prayer for me — in silence. ...
I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will....."
With these opening words – of which they are miles away from the common expectation of such an event- the Pope raised the eye brows of many people both at the St. Peter's Squire and the wold all occassion following the event on their TV screens and On-line streaming. His simple appearence, the humble request for prayer on his behalf and other simple signs from that very beggining brought the same Media to another ' Topic of interest'.
Pope Francis, therefore, made some firsts in is Papal election.
- The first Jesuit to be elected as Pope.
- The First Pope from Latin America.
- The First Pope to assume the name Francis
From that very begining, the Pope showed that his Papacy would be marked with simplicity and care for the poor. It needs no telling that the choice of the name ' Francis' has it's inspiration from the Great St. Francis of Assisi. His is actually the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi, to whom the Pope attributes his Papacy and Mission.We have seen how he has visited the sick, the homeless, the old age. We remember too when on Holy Thursday's The Lord's Last Supper, he washed the feet of 12 inmates, this not only moved the prisoners but the world at large.
MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS OF POPE FRANCIS' PAPACY
The major acts or events that we can attribute to Pope Francis in the last five years are:
- Lumen Fidei ( Light of Faith) June 29th 2013, a compliment and continuation of Pope Benedict's XVI two encyclicals ( Deus Caritas Est and Spe Salvi. The encyclical is more concerned with faith, the Economy of Salvation, Faith and reason, the role of the Church in the transmission and effecting of faith to the society and the role of faith in the same society for the common good.
- His encyclical Laudato si Praise be to you – On Care For Our Common Home) – (May 24, 2015) which focused on the Environment and the call for all nations to re-think on this issue.
He has also written other documents like; Vultum Dei quaerere: (On Women’s Contemplative Life) – Apostolic Constitution (29 June 2016, Amoris laetitia: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on love in the family, March 19, 2016, Evangelii Gaudium: (The Joy of the Gospel) : Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World, November 24 2013, Misericordia et Misera: (Mercy and Peace), November 20, 2016 and the latest Placuit Deo: (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) 22 February 2018.
The most talked about documets of Pope Francis' Papacy are:
- the Encyclical Laudate si and Amoris Laetitia. The first, dealing with the care of our common homeand calling for the end the Environmental destruction, calling for global action on the same. This attracted praise and critic in the same measure. There were those who felt the Pope has crossed the line between faith and global politics. Some felt that the Pope was promoting socialism and playing down capitalism. However, many of the interested parties felt the Pope adressed a vital subject that needed an objective aproach and solution.
The second much talked document was Amoris Laetitia. This Exultation was a long awaited document after the Synod of Bishops met in Rome. In my opinion, this was the most debated and still much talked about document from all other documents or writings of the Pope. The most debated part is the Pastoral care of the divorced and the reception of communion to the remarried. The Western ( German Church to be specific has taken the matter to a greater heaights, now allowing even protestant spouses to receive communion too). These document is being debated and interpretated within individual Episcopal Conferences.
- Approach to Faith and evangelization. With no doubt the Pope has brought the Church to confront her way of evangelization as much as She safeguards her teaching and dogmas. It seemed to some like the Church was putting more efforts on dogams and traditions. The Pope has not changed the core dogmas and teachings of the Church as the Secular world held it's breath in expectation to that. He however changed the style of teaching and witnessing to this faith. In his position as the head of the Church, we would expect a diplomat that talks only 'ex Cathedra” but the Pope has given the style of evangelization called ' The shephered should smell like the sheep.' This means going out of the confort zone and reaching out towards others that are in need of the word of God and human /christian love through the acts of mercy.
- The diplomatic friendship between Cuba and USA. This is a major step of Pope Francis in bringing political and diplomatic friendship between the two Countries which, from the early leadership of Fidel Castro.
Apart from the political and diplomatic friendship, the Church in Cuba breathed a fresh air after the government lifted the blocks made in 1959 of which the Church was blocked from building New Churches.
We have in the same breath the Prison Exchange between the US and the Cuban government.
- Another very important aspect was the reformation of the Vatican Bank. This was called for after a history of alegged allegations of corruption and money laundering of which the bank is directly connected.
At the same time, the Pope hired a firm, The Promontory Financial Group, to carry out a comprehensive investigation of all customer accounts of the bank and other allegations surrounding organization. The Pope laid off four of the five Cardinals who were part of the oversight body of the Vatican Bank. In a new twist of events he appointed lay finacial experts to be part of the Commission of the Council of Economy. In number, the Pope appointed 8 Cardinals and 7 lay members experts in finance, management, bussiness fields.
- Inter-religious communion. Pope Francis has extended his friendship to Budhist leaders, Islamic leaders and other Christian denominations. This expression of friendship and common ground is the basis of a harmonious inter-religious diaogue that promotes unity in diversity.
- Pope Francis has been so vocal on the Immigration issue. We are all aware of the immigration crisis present as a consequence of war and poverty, especially in the Middle East and Some parts of North Africa. The Pope has not shied away in challenging the now increasing hostility against the immigrants to be accepted and welcomed not only in the countries they run to for refuge, but also to the families. This to some was a message of hope and courage. Some heeded to the call while others it seemed a great challenge to accept. In some of the European countries, the integration program has worked well, to others, politial decisions have been manipulated or influenced to the Immigrants' problem. This has made more right wing political parties to dominate the politics of the day. The winning card being the Immigrants' problem.
In Summary, we can agree that Pope Francis has given us 5 interesting years. He has not hesitated to break the Code of rule in matters of protocal, socialization, homilies, dressing, Pope Mobile Car, and general attitude. His 5 years have been dramatic yet full of blessings and challenges. This is the Pope that we can dare say, he is unpredictable.
His Spirirituality is based on calling for more human relationships in a very global and securalised world, more love and care for the poor and marginalised, more practical ' catechesis' that is based on ' going out other than holding on to our confort zones especially as evangelizers, more ' smelling like the sheep' that we care for and so on, ...
REVITALIZATION AND RESTRUCTURING
Our 13th General Chapter 2017 focused on two major elements; Revitalization and Restructuring. Actually, this is what Pope Francis has been doing for the last 5 years in the Church. He gives us a very good example that would be important to reflect in relation to our XIII General Chapter's deliberation and final Acts.
We cannot deny the fact that Pope Francis is a child of his own land, his own culture and mentality. This can be part of what we are seeing in his Papacy. However, the bigger picture is, he wants a practical ' dirty, smelly Church' that has no other smell other than that of Her own Children, in their diverse situations of life.
I think the Pope and our XIII GC have something in common.