By freeing himself from masters,
Bergoglio has found His own Master
by Antonio Socci
The Catholic Church is going through a season of epochal changes. Pope Benedict’s renunciation of the papacy in February was a historical gesture of enormous significance, which highlighted the great dramas of our time.
The arrival of Pope Francis to the Chair of Peter on March 13 is, even in his choice of name, the beginning of an evangelical “revolution” which is already stirring the people (we will see this also in his upcoming trip to Brazil).
It is certain that he will change the Vatican as we have come to know it over the centuries: from “a Renaissance court” (as Pope Bergoglio said) it will become the home of the humble, crucified King, who embraces – just like the Bernini colonnades – all of the misery in the world.
The other day a friend and former student of the Pope, the Argentine writer and journalist Jorge Milia, related some of his telephone conversations with the Pontiff. And he gave us some enlightening news-flashes. First of all, he underlined “the gratitude and tenderness” that Francesco has for his predecessor: “he makes me feel that I have found an old friend.” “You cannot imagine the humility and wisdom of this man,” Pope Francis told him while speaking of Benedict XVI. “Well then, you must keep him close to you,” the writer replied. And the Pope responded: “I wouldn’t even think for a second about renouncing the counsel of a such a person - it would be foolish of me to do so.”
Then Jorge Milia spoke of the great crowds of people that are flocking to St. Peter’s Square, to hear his words and embrace him. Francis said: “They must be able to do this! It is my duty to listen to them, comfort them, pray with them and shake hands with them so that they sense that they are not alone.” But Pope Francis added that it was not easy to make this need understood in the Vatican, where they are used to an image of the Pope as an inaccessible entity. “It hasn’t been easy Jorge, because here there are many “masters” of the Pope with a much greater length of service.” said the Holy Father. He let it be understood that every change was extremely hard for [people] to digest – starting with the choice of not going to live in the legendary Papal “Apartment”. He made this decision because many popes “up there” ended up becoming “prisoners” of their secretaries and he did not want the same thing to happen to him: “I am the one who decides whom to see, not my secretaries…” Jorge Milia adds: “He told me that Popes have been isolated for centuries and this is not good. The place of the Pastor is to be with his sheep…”
The Pontiff has expressed this thought many times. It might seem just his personal propensity for cordiality, affability, compassion. But it is not only this. It is much more. It is a revolution in the concept of the Papacy. At least that of the last millennium. Certainly, his predecessors already initiated a progressive dismantling of the regal heaviness of the Curia, starting with Paul VI and John Paul II preferred taking to the streets of the world rather than staying in the Vatican. Benedict XVI shot thunderbolts against “careerism, clericalism, worldliness, divisions, ambitions of power.” He also called for evangelical poverty and used the atomic bomb against “the filth in the Church.”
Now we have Pope Francis who has begun to fulfill (it seems in an overpowering way) all that his predecessor had asked for a thousand times over. But what is being announced is not just the newness of a person (typical of every pontificate) and a strong change in structures but it is a radical mutation in the actual way of being Pope.
Francesco is trying to bring back the entire Church to what is essential, to Her apostolic origins, in short to Jesus Christ. As St. Francis did in the XII century.
The young man from Assisi was in the little ramshackle church of St. Damian, when he heard these words directly from the Crucified: “Go Francis, and repair my house, which as you can see, is falling into ruin.” He interpreted them to the letter and materially started to rebuild that little chapel. But his readiness in following the words of Jesus [also] repaired many wounded hearts and finally the Church Herself as a spiritual edifice.
So it is with Pope Francis who has chosen the name of the Saint from Assisi. He is also beginning with the essential - announcing Jesus - the consolation and tenderness of God for men - especially for the poorest and most suffering.
The other two key words of this pontificate are “mercy” (“God forgives always, forgives everything. It is we who become tired in being forgiven”) and “prayer” ( he is always repeating: ”Strong prayer is needed, and this humble prayer allows Jesus to work a miracle… Courageous prayer, which struggles to make that miracle reality. Prayer makes miracles happen, but we must believe this!”).
It is not that Pope Francis avoids the enormity of the attack that the world is conducting on the Church on all fronts. But what is the nature of this attack? The great persecutions of Christians in all of the Islamic world and tyrannical regimes (such as: China, Vietnam, Cuba and diverse African countries) continue. And this after the collapse of Communism in Europe twenty years ago, when the Church non longer served as a barrier against Marxism, added to anti-Christian hostility which spread from the United Stares of Clinton and Obama to the technocracy of Europe. It is not just the Christian Faith that is attacked, but the fundamentals of the natural law itself: the family - the union between man and woman, which has been at the base of all civilizations, from the ancient times before Christ, until today, but has now been radically trampled on and emptied [of meaning]. Since the Clinton years (which saw the entrance of China in the WTO) the new “one and only way of thinking” has been proclaimed by the western world along with a total “deregulation” of both economic-financial exchanges and human relations.
In the first case – with the bursting of the financial bubble in 2008 – we arrived at the brink of world-wide bankruptcy. In the second case we arrived at a devastating turning point in the history of civilization.
There was even the “conservative” parenthesis of George Bush Jr. who after the September 11, 2001, tended to call upon the Christian religion into a sort of “clash of civilizations” and religions with Islam. But the Church of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who also knew about the sufferings of Christians under Islam – had to refuse this call, for the reason that it would have been impious to put the seal of Christ on conflicts that had the aim of guaranteeing energy supplies to the West. Also because it would have been the Christian minorities in Islamic countries that would pay the price – as in fact has happened.
Now that the Church is under a perfect siege – from the anti-Christian USA and Europe on one side – and on the other the persecutory regimes in Asia, Africa and Muslim countries, Pope Francis emerges from this historic siege which threatens the very survival of the Church – by means of the only irresistible weapon with which the Church has always triumphed over the course of the centuries when persecuted: the Gospel (or as the Pope would say, “grace”).
It is false that the Pope has set aside the teachings of his predecessors on “the non-negotiable values” as the conservative Catholics reproach him for and as the progressive Catholics would like him to do. (His first encyclical “Lumen Fidei” demonstrates this).
Pope Francis simply knows that, in the situation at which we have arrived, it no longer makes any sense for the Church to break out into a cultural battle or in political action to exorcize, through human means, the collapse of a civilization and the “barbarian invasions”.
The Church knows that only the grace of Christ is indispensible for Her. That is why today the Pope asks for conversion (beginning with the dismantling of the “Renaissance Curia”): incessant prayer which obtains miracles; the marveling at Jesus “who kisses His wounds” in the poor, the sick and the desperate; the announcement and experience of the mercy of God for men.
It was in this way that the world was conquered peacefully and reconstructed by Christianity. And it will happen anew.