Five big surprises from Francis’s papacy


Catholic Herald, 14 March 2018

Pope Francis has astonished many during his papacy

How to mark the fifth anniversary of a pontificate that is a high-octane news generator, where hardly a fortnight goes by without an unexpected turn of events? Perhaps it’s instructive to go back to March 2013, and see how the surprises came early. Herewith five surprises on the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis.

The media interviews

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires kept the media at a distance, confessing that “interviews are not my forte”. Yet there he was three days after his election at the customary meeting of a new pope with the news media, and he was clearly at ease. He spoke animatedly and, in an early sign of what was to come later, departed freely from his text. It was an almost instantaneous transformation. Far from keeping his distance, Francis has employed media interviews as his principal method of addressing his flock and the world. In the summer of 2013, his first encyclical was released – Lumen Fidei – a joint effort with Benedict XVI. It was never to be spoken of again. The real teaching in 2013 was from the papal plane – “Who am I to judge?” – and in a long interview with Fr Antonio Spadaro. And it has been that way ever since.

A poor Church

It was in the meeting with journalists where the Holy Father explained why he chose the name “Francis”, in honour of il Poverello: “How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!” He indicated that he would not only preach about the Christian obligation toward the poor, but would live it, seeking out the poor and suffering, both in Rome and abroad. It would become the most admirable part of his pontificate. This was not a departure from his practice in Buenos Aires, but an extension of it.

The surprise was that Francis would not only bring his experience as a “bishop of the slums” to Rome, but also the impact of his only significant experience outside his native Argentina, his time in Germany. The pope from the poor and for the poor is also the pope, as it were, of the German Church, whether it be advancing the “Kasper proposal” on divorce and remarriage, or rewarding them for their recalcitrance on liturgical translations. The pope is for the poor and with the poor, but the pontificate follows the agenda of the bishops who are rich and have the preoccupations of the rich.

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