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Pope Francis wants Church on the streets


HONG KONG (SE): A slightly stunned-looking Jorje Mario Cardinal Bergoglio sj, stood on the balcony in St. Peter’s Square on the evening of March 13 when he appeared to greet the crowds for the first time as Pope Francis.

But as the anthems of Italy and the Vatican died in the chill evening air, a smile broke the solemnity of his face and the simple greeting, “Brothers and sisters, good evening,” signalled that a new style of papacy had arrived.

Already in greeting the cardinals he had spurned his throne and remained on the floor with them and, on the following day, he also refused a car and security. He took a bus back to his quarters to pay his bill, thank the staff for their kindness and pick up his things.

Pope Francis brings a long pastoral experience to the papacy; one of teacher, parish priest, religious superior during the oppressive years of military dictatorship, and bishop of a huge diocese at oddments with government.

Known as a man of the poor, he persistently called on the priests of his diocese to do what he called shoe leather evangelisation, to be out among the people and deal with pastoral situations from the perspective of the people they serve.

In 2009, he admonished priests in his diocese for turning away poor, young, unmarried mothers requesting baptism for their babies, instead, calling on them to admire their strong belief in the right to life and to honour their courage.

At the height of a standoff between the Church and the government of Cristina Kirchner in 2008, she cancelled the traditional Mass on Independence Day to prevent Cardinal Bergoglio from speaking to the nation.

She also appointed a divorced and remarried Catholic as the nation’s ambassador to the Holy See, but the Vatican refused to accept the credentials.

Yet, Pope Francis is a man of unlikely friendships. Since he became pope, Kirchner has suggested he mediate in the Falkland Islands dispute with the United Kingdom.

Vatican journalist, Sandro Magister, writes, “There isn’t a politician, from extreme right to extreme left, who is not dying for the blessing of Cardinal Bergoglio. Even the women of Plaza de Mayo, ultra-radicals and unbridled anti-Catholics, treat him with respect. He has even made inroads with one of them in private meetings.”

Their current leader, Bebe de Bonafini, was quoted as saying, on his becoming pope, “We have only to say Amen.”

He also relates how the wife of an ex-bishop became one of his greatest fans after he attended her husband on his deathbed.

“He is a man who can seek out the poor, the ostracised, the abandoned,” Magister reflects.

As a man of the people, he refused to live in the bishop’s palace in Buenos Aires, preferring a small apartment and his own cooking. As Jesuit superior in Argentina during the repressive years of military dictatorship, he resisted the tendency of some of his confrères to take up the gun against the murderous regime, saying this was not the way of peace preached by the life of our saviour, Jesus Christ.

To the starving people he gave more than bread. He preached the beatitudes. “This is the way of Jesus. Trampling on the dignity of a woman, of a man, of a child, of an elderly person is a grave sin that cries out to heaven,” he would say.

In his Lenten message for this year, Cardinal Bergoglio said that the trap of impotence makes us question if it is worthwhile trying to change unjust situations. “Is it worthwhile if the world continues its carnival dance disguising everything?” he questioned.

In response to his own question he replies, “Rend your hearts, not your garments,” in condemning what he calls artificial penance, formal fasting that serves only to satisfy self and egotistical prayer that does not allow God to touch the heart.

He once wrote, “If I had to choose between a wounded Church that goes out onto the streets and a sick, withdrawn Church, I would definitely choose the first one.”

We have a new pope.


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