Opinion » Lead

Updated: March 19, 2013 00:30 IST

The significance of Pope Francis

Rudolf C. Heredia
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Only through collegial governance and a decentralised papacy can the bishop of Rome rebuild a participative, witnessing Church and stymie a clericalised one

The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, as the 266th successor to the See of St. Peter in Rome is significant for a variety of reasons: the first pope from outside Europe in over a thousand years; the first Jesuit ever in the Order’s near 500 year history; a deeply spiritual man dedicated to a pastoral leadership of service. As Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires he stayed not in the bishop’s palace but in an apartment. He preferred using public transport to a chauffeured limousine, cooking his own meals. Though not overly political, he doesn’t shy away from the impact of the political and social of the Gospel message; known as a conservative but also as a man of communion and dialogue; has worked on the Synod of Bishops but is not an insider to the Vatican. As a Jesuit, he has held key offices, including that of novice master and provincial superior. And Jesuit spirituality is written into his religious DNA.

Diverse expectations

Such a complex and rich background leaves Catholics with equally multiple and diverse expectations. One can’t anticipate how his papacy will unfold as his past experience impacts his present responsibilities, as he makes a new future for the Church. Certainly, a Latin American pope will influence the Church there, as European popes before.

However, there seem to be clues already in his first few days of office. In his first speech to the city of Rome and to the world, “urbi et orbi”, he begins with a disarmingly informal “good evening,” and ends with a friendly “goodnight, sleep well”! He refers to himself as the “bishop of Rome” and invites them to begin together “this journey, the Bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome, which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood.” Before he gives his blessing, he asks the people “for a favour first” to pray for “their bishop … in silence”. And finally he assures them that he will “pray to the Madonna to protect Rome.”

Surely this does not presage an imperial papacy exercising dominance. He is not a hierarch nor a superstar, not a recluse either, but a brother pilgrim! He did not refer to himself as ‘Pope’. The Cardinal deacon had announced: “habemus Papam”, we have a Pope, but what we see is only Francis, a pastor beginning a journey with his people, presenting himself as the bishop of Rome in collegiality with his brother bishops.

However, there is no turning back from the core agenda of the Council: the Church as the pilgrim people of God enlivened by the Word of God, rather than a pyramidal institution hierarchical controlled; the need for a graded devolution of authority to regional synods and local churches; to celebrate an inculturated sacred liturgy rather than an antique passive rite, to open to the modern world in the service of faith and the promotion of justice; in ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue; with respect for the human dignity and religious liberty of all, a community of persons, not a bureaucracy of institutionalised roles.

This seems an impossible agenda, one which neither the pope nor the bishops can effectively tackle alone or separately. The Council urged the primacy of the bishop of Rome as a service of solidarity and a guarantor of unity in the Church. Control can enforce uniformity, it cannot inspire unity. The pope with the bishops in collegiality together authenticate a communion of the churches. The colossal scandals and even more the damaging failure to address these adequately are stark testimony of the limitations of the present bureaucratic structures, and the need for change, reform, renovation. The modern world is far too complex and the Church today far too large to be effectively centralised. Only collegial governance around an authentic centre, the pope with the bishops, not an either/or dichotomy between them, can effectively rebuild a participative, witnessing Church, and stymie a clericalised one. Will Francis be the man to mediate all this?

When living outside the town in a little dilapidated chapel, the saint of Assisi heard a voice: “Francis, Francis, build my Church.” And untutored as he was in the new life he was called to, he began literally to rebuild the chapel with his bare hands. And thus began the Franciscan renewal of the medieval Church. Today the Catholic Church needs a Francis to rebuild it again. Jorge Mario Bergoglio must surely have remembered that charming story when he accepted the papacy and chose the name Francis.

Awesome task

Certainly it will not be an easy or straightforward reconstruction, and we can easily become critical and cynical along the way. It’s immensely difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible to walk in the shoes of the fisherman. So before we rush to judgment we would do well to remember the old proverb about withholding our judgment till we walk in the other’s shoes. But we can only imagine Pope Francis’s awesome task.

Good Pope John XXIII who was elected at 78 surprised the world and shocked the Roman Curia, the centralised bureaucracy of the Catholic Church, calling a Council in the 4th year of his papacy for an aggiornamento, i.e., to update the Catholic Church. The rest is history, but it is still contested, though a very hopeful one. Pope Francis must now take this forward into a renewed future, as he with the bishops rebuilds the Church together with all people of goodwill. This I believe is the significance of the election of the first non-European pope in a millennium.

The significance of the first Jesuit pope is still to unravel. The issue is whether the election of a Jesuit pope really indicates a greater acceptance of the Order today, or whether it merely expresses the confidence in one man who happens to be a Jesuit.

The election of the first Jesuit pope comes just a year before the bi-centenary of the restoration of the Society of Jesus by Pius VII in 1814, after its suppression by Clement XIV in 1773; and 32 years after John Paul II had suspended the normal administration of the society and imposed his delegate on the order, 1981-1983. Jesuits are known to be always on the frontiers of the Church. Little wonder then that controversy seems so much a part of their history.

Whether it was before the pre-repression Society of Jesus: the Chinese rites or the Malabar rites, or the Paraguay Reductions for the indigenous Amerindias in Latin America; or after its restoration: new liturgical movements, dialogue across Christian denominations and religious traditions, cutting edge theology or political involvement and social movements … contestation and struggle stamp Jesuit history both within the Church and without, this in spite of the Jesuits’ vow of especial obedience to the pope in regard to mission.

For this vow is understood as a commitment to the priority for international mission under obedience to the most universal authority in the Church. Hence Jesuits were perceived by nationalist leaders as not giving their loyalty to their nation state. Finally, they demanded their suppression forcing Clement XIV’s hand.

However, the way mission is perceived at the frontiers and from that at the centre is inevitably different. Yet, in a globalised world the necessity of an international mission across national borders makes this special vow all the more relevant in our world today. In accordance with tradition, the Superior General of the Jesuits will meet the new Jesuit pope and renew this vow on behalf of the whole Order. Jesuits must wait to see where their obedience to this pope will take them.

Our new pope is sure to surprise us with joy and shock us with the unexpected. Let us pray with Pope Francis the prayer for peace of St Francis: “Lord make me an instrument of your peace …”

(Rudolf C. Heredia is an independent researcher and a Jesuit.

More In: Lead | Opinion

hope the decision the pope will be taken will strength the humanity and

from:  abhijit chakraborty
Posted on: Mar 19, 2013 at 21:31 IST

Rev. Fr. Rudolf C. Heredia, the article is well written taking into
account many dimensions of the subject under consideration. Thank you
for the same. All of us Catholics are waiting for a sea change in the
days to come. The first signs are promising and give us hope. I think
Rev. Fr. General of the Jesuits has written in this occasion is worth
mentioning. We need to appreciate the 'generosity' with which he has
accepted this huge and unfathomable responsibility of Holy Pope. Let
us all pray that his Jesuit training in its full strength may manifest
in all his actions. May God lead him.

from:  George Chacko Parachathempallil
Posted on: Mar 19, 2013 at 17:28 IST

A great thanks to Rudolf c. heredia, for the meaningful sharing.

from:  Maria Augustine
Posted on: Mar 19, 2013 at 17:09 IST

Well unlike other pope he is showing very good intentions, our wish is
the pope he should have in me the combined essence of Mahatma Gandhi ,
Mother Theresa and Helen Keller,

from:  Gundappa srinivas
Posted on: Mar 19, 2013 at 16:16 IST

This Pope should institute Service Sundays: one Sunday a month dedicated to service.

Inspired by the church, but where all can serve, and serving all, each person serving
in their own community with whatever ability they have, helping others, in a prayerful

from:  Arvind
Posted on: Mar 19, 2013 at 15:55 IST

At age 76, for that matter at any age you need to prioritize your
tasks. The most important problem in the church today is that 50% of
the followers are un-empowered. The Roman Catholic Church does not
permit women to become priests. In the United States a group of nuns
are working on female sexuality. The bishops in the United States,
guided by the Vatican, have told the nuns to stop doing that work.
The argument of the bishops is very simple. They say – we will
decide for you what women's sexuality will be. Can the new pope
break this self-imposed barrier and lead to the ordination of nuns
so that half the number in the church are also empowered like the
men? The second task is regarding Vatican finances. For many years
there have been scandals over scandals and credit needs to be given
to the Butler of the former Pope who brought the scandals into the
open. Surely it should not be very difficult for hard-working honest
leader to put a totally transparent system into place. The third and
equally important task is to deal with a large number of gay men in
the clergy. This is going to be very difficult but there is no point
in keeping it burried forever. All the acumen of the new pope will
need to be deployed on this subject which is continuing to bleed the

from:  Hilary Pais
Posted on: Mar 19, 2013 at 15:30 IST

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

--- this 'Prayer of Saint Francis' is attributed to the 13th century saint Francis of Assisi.

from:  vyjayanthi
Posted on: Mar 19, 2013 at 13:09 IST

The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, as Pope certainly made history.
Pope Francis, as he will be known, is the first Latin American and the first Jesuit to become Pope. His choice of the name Francis, in honour of St Francis of Assisi, who identified himself with the poor is highly significant.
The fact that the Cardinals chose an Argentinian Pope is widely seen as a reflection of the Catholic Church´s growth in Latin America – where 40 per cent of all Catholics reside.
It is interesting that Cardinal Bergoglio reportedly came second in the papal election to Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005, but he kept such a low profile that few analysts considered him to be a leading candidate in this election.
However he must have been the frontrunner this time as he was elected on the second day of the conclave and after only the fifth vote.
When he became Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he chose not to live in a large mansion, but in a small apartment; he also shunned his limousine for public transport, As Archbishop, he would wash the feet of Aids patients and often spoke up in favour of the poor.
He is said to be quite liberal in areas of social policy and one described inequality as “a social sin that cries out to heaven”, and has emphasised the Church´s duty to serve the poor and disenfranchised.
On the main questions of doctrine, however, Pope Francis conforms completely to the Church´s stance on abortion and same sex-marriage.
The Pope´s challenges are many. There are a number of policies, not strictly doctrinal, which many ordinary Catholics fail to identify with, such as the Church´s official position on contraception, the ordination of women and clerical celibacy.
The Pope will also have to make it clear that the cover-up of sexual abuse by members of the clergy over the years is a thing of the past and that such abuse will no longer be tolerated.
Reforms of many of the inherited traditions are not at the top of the new pope´s agenda. Instead there is a strengthening the Catholic community and preserving its unity.
Pope Francis needs to build bridges to connect with the people from Rome to the rest of the world.
After all he´s called the pontifex, which literally means bridge-builder.

from:  kurt waschnig
Posted on: Mar 19, 2013 at 11:43 IST

The first thing needed from the Catholic church and the Pope is respect for other

from:  David
Posted on: Mar 19, 2013 at 10:46 IST

Excellent article!
It captures the past history of the individual the pope, and the Church, and the challenges of the future, giving fairly clear ideas on what needs to be done.

from:  M R Arulraja
Posted on: Mar 19, 2013 at 09:41 IST

For all institutions governing religion, irrespective of the religion, the challenge is always in the balancing of the organizational, administrative with the spiritual. As resources grow - translate into wealth, matters spiritual seem to attract only modest attention. Take the Vatican, would Jesus Christ fit in there? Would he want to see himself there, surrounded with pomp and comforts on the scale befitting an Emperor? This is true of all religious institutions which seem to have too much wealth to manage and too much power to control their flock.

Jesus Christ was young of age, when he attained all that we know of. When will see a young pope? When we talk of retirement ages for all, why not the Pope. Again, I have no intention of singling out the Church, this is probably true across religious institutions and leaders.

from:  varadarajan raman
Posted on: Mar 19, 2013 at 07:47 IST

Control for uniformity and consensus for unity - this is a valid understanding. But, extend this
to the putative structure of Pope Francis heading the Federation of Roman Catholic
Churches, that looks like weird imagination!

Good luck.

from:  Raghuram Ekambaram
Posted on: Mar 19, 2013 at 06:28 IST

Amazing article!!True testimony to the monumental task at hand! Let us all pray for our new leader,Francis, and for courage and perseverance to help him for our good and the good of all His world - that we may be reasonably happy in this life and eternally happy with Him in the next! Thank you conclave.

from:  Robert Croteau
Posted on: Mar 19, 2013 at 01:54 IST

Yes..It is good to have a jesuist...a pope who will walk in the steps of St.Francis ...He shall definitely rebuild the church just as St.Francis did ....It is our hope that the church as a whole would recite 'Lord , make us instruments of peace' along with their shepherd....

from:  vijayan
Posted on: Mar 19, 2013 at 01:02 IST
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