CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 20 April 2019

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A new brood in the Vatican

Without judging the overall year for the Church, it has certainly been an interesting one at the top. The shock announcement by Pope Benedict XVI in February that he would step down in favour of a new man was initially viewed with anxiety, but the emergence of Pope Francis has proved at least exciting and certainly novel, without knowing where it will end up.

From the moment he appeared on the balcony to face the world as pope, people knew that we had something different here. Instead of a cape-draped figure blessing the world, a simply dressed bishop of Rome asked for a blessing.

Within days he had cut through a plethora of customs that we had been constantly told could not be changed and suddenly we learned that protocol is not that sacred after all.

There was new language too, more of the type you and I may speak, rather than the manicured words that could take some time to squeeze meaning out of. And there were clear messages that the new pope wanted something different from the Church.

On November 25 he got his chance to spell out his dream in detail, with the release of his first apostolic exhortation, or teaching document. Its 50,000 words expound his dream for a Church in the world that, in the words of the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, “… wears man’s smudge (and) shares man’s smell.”

As much as being a teaching document, it is an exposé of who this man Jorge Bergoglio is and what he thinks. It expands on his vision of mission and ministry, two things which he sees as intricately intertwined.

It is also full of his own reflections, sometimes expressed in vividly expressive language. He calls the mission one of proclaiming the gospel with joy, noting it cannot be done with the countenance of someone coming from a funeral or a sourpuss.

At other times he is highly philosophical and theological. But he wants reform and wants it to begin with himself. He plainly states that the papacy is in need of reform, as is the Vatican administration and other mechanisms of the Church.

He makes a plain call for decentralisation and a realistic recognition of the collegiality of bishops, demonstrating this by quoting bishops’ conferences from Europe, Oceania, Asia, the Americas and Asia.

The biggest defect he sees in society is the tremendous inequality among peoples in the world. He states clearly that so long as this situation remains, the world will never see peace or tranquility. He calls it a violence in itself, which can only lead to violence.

“An evil embedded in the structures of society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. It is evil crystallised in unjust economic structures…,” he says.

It is in the untouched fringes that he wants the Church to be active and for the Christian cross to be the banner borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of this evil.

He is calling for a Church of the poor, that is with the poor and sharing the mystique of living, mingling, encountering and embracing in mutual support.

It is over this type of bent world that he believes, again in the words of Hopkins, “…The Holy Ghost broods with warm breast [and] with ah! bright wings.” 


And where the Holy Spirit is active, there is hope. A blessed New Year to all. JiM