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What a Pope!

October 14th, 2013by Dan Thomas

About a year ago I reflected on the book The Good Pope, which told the life story of Pope John XXIII and his incredible impact on the papacy of his time. It seems to me that Pope Francis is having a similar impact on the papacy and the church of our time. His recent interview with the Jesuit magazines showed a man with a vision and a practice that are reaching those who have not been reached in the past.

I especially loved the title “A Big Heart Open to God,” which captured for me the image of a joyful man who loves life in God’s world. I was struck as well by the setting of the interview described as a small desk with simple furniture with few objects in the room, expressing the simplicity that Francis has come to exemplify so well.

Pope FrancisHis description of himself, “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon,” was particularly powerful because he also went on to point out the good side of himself as “a bit astute, that I can adapt to circumstances, but…am a bit naïve.” What an honest and insightful understanding of self is expressed here.

I found it very intriguing that Pope Francis admits that in his time as provincial superior he “did not always do the necessary consultation….My style of government as a Jesuit at the beginning had many faults.” What tremendous honesty and humility. I know I need much more of this in my life.

He describes his “image of the church [as] that of the holy, faithful people of God…Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people…We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church’…This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people.” What an inspiring vision of the church!

His view of the church’s mission is expressed this way: “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all…I dream of the church as a mother and shepherdess.”

Then on October 1 another interview was published; this one with Eugenio Scalfar, the founder and editor of La Repubblica and it is also full of some incredible quotes:

And here I [Scalfar writes] am [at the pope’s apartment]. The Pope comes in and shakes my hand, and we sit down. The Pope smiles and says: “Some of my colleagues who know you told me that you will try to convert me.”

It’s a joke I tell him. My friends think it is you want to convert me.
He smiles again and replies: “Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”

 “The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don’t even look for them any more. They have been crushed by the present. You tell me: can you live crushed under the weight of the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family? Can you go on like this? This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing.”

“I believe I have already said that our goal is not to proselytize but to listen to needs, desires and disappointments, despair, hope. We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace. Vatican II, inspired by Pope Paul VI and John, decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to be open to modern culture. The Council Fathers knew that being open to modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers. But afterwards very little was done in that direction. I have the humility and ambition to want to do something.”

 What an incredible example of openness and willingness to listen! He truly is a “Francis” of our day, who wrestles with what is going on now, learns from it and brings it into dialogue with the church and its teachings. The impact of his words, his actions and his attitudes will be exciting and interesting to watch and experience. I hope I can be open to his challenges to me and my living.

Dan Thomas

Dan Thomas is a retired Director of Religious Education, living in Dayton Ohio. His education includes graduation from Chaminade HS and the University of Dayton (MA in Pastoral Ministry). He is married with two adult sons and is a parishioner at St. Helen, Dayton.