A Pope's mission, reconnecting the church to charity


National Post, 14 March 2018

Pope Francis comes alive when he meets not with the movers and shakers, but with the moved and the shaken

On Tuesday Pope Francis marked the fifth anniversary of his election. He was a surprising choice to be sure — a pope “from the ends of the earth,” as Francis himself put it. The surprises have not stopped since. The pope has provided them in abundance, and the nature of the news business is to highlight the differences, not the continuities, with what came before.

Yet this week a short letter was published by Benedict XVI, Francis’ predecessor, whose utterly unprecedented decision to abdicate his office opened the way for Francis. While noting the obvious differences in style, Benedict XVI affirmed the “inner continuity” of the two pontificates.

What might constitute that “inner continuity” aside from the fundamental mission of the successor to St. Peter, to confess that Jesus is the Son of the living God, as Peter himself did in Matthew 16:18?

I think that the best way to understand the mission of Pope Francis is in light of the teaching of Benedict. At Christmas 2005, Benedict signed his first major document, an encyclical entitled God is Love.

Benedict wrote there a summary of the Church’s identity:

“The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.”

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