Sunday, March 17, 2013

THOUGHTS ON WORDS BY POPE FRANCIS


“You know that it was the duty of the Conclave to give Rome a Bishop.  It seems that my brother Cardinals have gone to the ends of the earth to get one… The diocesan community of Rome now has its Bishop. 

And now, we take up this journey:  Bishop and People.  This journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches.  A journey of fraternity, of love, of trust among us.

I ask a favour of you: before the Bishop blesses his people, I ask you to pray to the Lord that he will bless me: the prayer of the people asking the blessing for their Bishop.”  —Pope Francis

The dream sheet, the long list of concerns particular groups think the Catholic Church must have “if it wants to stay relevant”, seems like a list of one political party advising its rivals as what do “if they really want to win elections.”

But the main concern of the church is not how to remain or become popular by appealing to as many “constituents” as possible, to run for a popularity contest. It has received a mission from its founder, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…(Mt. 28:19). The Gospel is not subject to political triangulation.

The main practical and pastoral concern of the Church is how to remain and continue to become truly universal (Catholic) in a globalized world in order to fulfill its commission. “We…can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ…we may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church... (Pope Francis in his first sermon)."

I told my friends after the abdication of Benedict XVI that the new Pope would have to “de-Vaticanize” the Church and “de-Europeanize” the Vatican.  The first words of Pope Francis sound as if he is already involved leading the Church in that task.  

For two millennia, and for obvious historical reasons, from the move to Rome by the apostle Peter, through the fall of the Roman Empire and to this day, the city of Rome and the rise of the Church have been intertwined. So were the Vatican and Europe. It should be no wonder that a process of mutual inculturations have occurred. As global as the Church became in its span after the encounter of Europe with the rest of the world, Rome was still in the Church.

With the advent of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council the communion between the Church and all humanity, expressed in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World as “Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts" (the hearts “of the followers of Christ”), finds echo today in the first words of Pope Francis benediction, “Now I will give the Blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.”

With the election of Pope Francis we may be already seeing a reverse process of inculturation. From the lands of the once evangelized, with an exhortation to the new Pope to “not forget the poor”, with his election from outside of Europe and his choice of the name Francis (in honor of St. Francis of Assisi), we may be seeing “the voice from outside” and “below” start a reverse evangelization of the church, the “de-Vaticanization” of the Church and the “de-Europeanization” of the Vatican. 

We sometimes forget that what makes a Pope a “Pope” is not the pomp and circumstance, or the centralized administration of the Church and of its temporal assets in a complex of buildings but the primacy of the bishop of Rome as the first church among all the churches, its universality expressed in the individual churches but in unity with Rome, “…which presides in charity over all the Churches.” 

The emphasis of Pope Francis on his figure primarily as bishop of Rome, as “Bishop and People”, and not as Pope or pontiff, point toward the church and the bishop in Rome not as “Church Central”, and end into itself but as a stop in the Christian journey in the manner of the apostle Peter, the first bishop of Rome, “This journey of the Church of Rome…” A bishop for which “…my brother Cardinals have gone to the ends of the earth to get one…”

The fact that the other bishops selected for Bishop of Rome a bishop from another side of the world reiterates not only the universality of the Church but also reminds us that the Church is the organic sum of all the parts of a living body, and not just an administrative central see in a specific geographic location. This organic whole in parts is the true and primitive sense of Catholicism (καθολικός, katholikos, "universal"; from καθόλου, katholou, "according to the whole").

The traditional papal salute “Urbi et orbe” (“to the city and to the world”) has become in fact “Ex orbe ad urbi” (“from the world to the city”). It is going to be interesting to see the impact of this papacy not only in the whole of the Church but also in international geopolitics.  May it all serve well “to all men and women of good will.”

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