By Benjamin Chaya
When Jose Bergoglio who hails from Argentina stepped up to the central balcony of St Peters basilica to be introduced as the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church on 13 March 2013, taking the name Francis, he was indeed a Pope of many firsts; He was the first Pope from the Americas, first Jesuit to assume the chair of Peter and the first pontiff to take the name Francis. God works in mysterious ways. He gave us a Pope for our times. Each Pope has brought a different dimension to the Church. Whilst Pope Francis is not steeped in theological writing like his immediate two predecessors, he is blessed with an awesome personal touch and lives the gospel in a practical way like St. Francis of Assisi. This article is a snapshot of the 8 years that Pope Francis has been the Bishop of Rome.
Humility and simplicity
When he assumed the Chair of Peter he decided not to stay in the papal apartments in Apostolic Palace where previously, Popes stayed. Instead, he opted for the modest Domus Sanctae Marthae (House of St Martha). When going on trips he is seen carrying his own bag up to the stairs of the plane. When he was given a Lamborghini in 2017 as a donation, he had it auctioned with the proceeds going to charity. He is known to stand in queues for food rather than have food brought to him during meetings or conferences. At times he sneaks out of the Vatican to give money to the poor of Rome. Surprise visits to rank and file have become his custom. Recently he visited Edith Bruck an 89 year old Holocaust survivor. Pope Francis` life is a challenge to Catholics in particular and the world in general. If the Vicar of Christ can practise such humility, what about me?
Focus on the family
The family is at the heart of Pope Francis. He recalled when he was growing up there had no television set and they would gather and talk as a family sharing joys, sadness and experiences. Sadly nowadays many families do not have time together due to the advent of the technological age. Some are on their smartphones in different rooms eating dinner whilst they are supposed to be sitting around a table sharing the common meal. With regard to his emphasis on the family, on 19 March 2021, the fifth anniversary of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Latetitia on the joy and beauty of familial love, Pope Francis inaugurated the Year Amoris Latetita Family which will conclude on 26 June 2022 on the occasion of the World Meeting of Families in Rome. Following the example of the Holy Father we have to rediscover the flame of love in our families.
Sense of humour
Many pictures of the Pope Francis show him with a beaming smile. He emphasises the importance of laughter despite the various challenges we face in life. Pope Francis points out that the ability to joke around is a “human tribute”, but it is closest to God`s grace. He further added that a sense of humour is a gift I ask for everyday lifts you up, it shows your life is short and to take things in the spirit of the redeemer.
Sanctity of life
Pope Francis has compared abortion to hiring a hitman. He has used the term Ideological colonisation to describe the process where rich western nations are providing aid to less developed countries on condition they accept practises like abortion, gay marriage and contraceptives. He has preached and defended the Catholic teaching that life begins at conception. In his own words;
“All too often, as we know from experience, people do not choose life, they do not accept the ‘Gospel of Life’ but let themselves be led by ideologies and ways of thinking that block life, that do not respect life, because they are dictated by selfishness, self-interest, profit, power and pleasure, and not by love, by concern for the good of others.
…As a result, the living God is replaced by fleeting human idols which offer the intoxication of a flash of freedom, but in the end bring new forms of slavery and death.”
– From homily at Mass for ‘Evangelism Vitae Day’ June 16, 2013
Concern for the environment
Pope Francis’ second encyclical Laudato Si’ was on the environment. Like his namesake St. Francis of Assisi who had special concern for animals and plants. The issue of environmental degradation is a serious one which demands urgent action but the world leaders have been dragging feet and hackling over the issue. He has consistently warned the world to address issue of climate change with the urgency it deserves. Pope Francis said it was a “duty” to add the “ecological sin against the common home” to the church catechism. … “It is a sin against future generations and is manifested in the acts and habits of pollution and destruction of the harmony of the environment,”
Quest for peace
Pope Francis has been passionate about the establishment of world peace and harmonious co-existence amongst people of different languages, cultures and religions. Who can forget the touching scene on 11 April 2019 when he knelt down, kissing the feet of the two South Sudan warring parties imploring them to make peace. His recent trip to Iraqi, a country where Abraham the father of faith was born, yet it has been ravaged by war and despair showed great courage and love for people. Despite the COVID-19 scourge, the unstable security situation in the country and his own recent health problems which saw him walking with a pronounced limp, he made the trip and brought hope and joy to a war weary nation. In an encounter reminiscent of St. Francis of Assisi meeting the Moslem Sultan Al-Kamil 802 years earlier, he met the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani focussing on the need to stop religiously inspired violence and the tolerance for other religions. It was a great lesson to humanity that we can live together despite our differences.
Distaste for gossip and bad mouthing
It would be incomplete to talk about Pope Francis without talking about his dislike for gossip and talking bad things about others. Unfortunately it has become a favourite sport for many. Criticism is often destructive and is often character assassination. This is prevalent on social media platforms. Near the elevators people take to reach the papal study or meeting halls, the Pope hung a copy of the icon of Our Lady of Silence — an image of Mary with her index finger emphasising the need for silence and speaking only when it is necessary. Pope Francis said that gossip is a “plague worse than Covid” that is seeking to divide the Roman Catholic Church.
In an age where genuine love has grown cold, humanity wants to disagree in a verbal and physical way on almost everything and where mankind has gone against God in matters of sexuality, we have a Pope who is bringing people back to God in practical ways by living the gospel like what St Francis of Assisi did. It is not adequate to learn scripture or catechism, we have to live by what we learn.