Francis is the first successor of Saint Peter to emerge from the southern and Latin American Church. It is difficult for him to interpret a process that, from the global south, is changing Catholicism. In 2013 I used the expression “The South wind blows”. The pope uses that phrase in the interview “El pastor”, published by Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin. He expresses the Latin American face of the Church, reflected in the faith of its peoples and the teaching of its pastors, especially at the Aparecida Conference in 2007.
His style combines the grammar of simplicity and closeness in the treatment that becomes a caress and a hug. The code Francisco evangelizes by simple words and eloquent gestures. When they ask me if it is the same as in Buenos Aires, I distinguish between the verbs to be and to be in our language. Francisco is Bergoglio, but he is different. In serenity he is the same; it is different when expressing affections.
His papacy means the beginning of the end of ecclesial Eurocentrism and accelerates the pace towards a truly global Church. After a first millennium marked by the Eastern Churches and a second led by the Western Church, a third millennium is dawning revitalized by the Churches of the South in a renewed intercultural catholicity and a polycentric pastoral figure. The Argentine Pope recognizes the central role of the peripheries and the peripherals, from the Amazon to Madagascar.
The Pope began to reduce the asymmetries between the Churches of the north and the south. He appoints cardinals in the poorest towns, from Haiti and Burkina Faso to Ethiopia and Vietnam. He visits countries with large Catholic populations: Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, the United States, Poland, and other States with minorities or in conflict situations: Turkey, Armenia, Bangladesh, Morocco, Greece, Thailand, Bahrain. Go to Mongolia.
Francisco de Asís and Ignacio de Loyola. The first Jesuit pope replaced the name of Saint Francis. He admires his union with Christ and his commitment to reforming the 13th century Church: “Repair my house.” In Assisi he exposed three traits of the saint that mark him: justice, peace and care of love. He highlights the love for the poor from the embrace of “Lady Poverty”; the pacifying charism engraved in the motto “Peace and good”; brotherhood with people and all beings, expressed in the praise of the Song of the creatures. The chosen name exposes the union with Jesus, the reform of the Church, the three challenges.
Francis contemplates the face of Christ in the Gospel, represents the People of God as an inverted pyramid and dreams of a missionary option capable of transforming everything. The words mission, discernment, joy, consolation, pilgrimage – synod means walking together – spring from an evangelical spirituality supported by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus.
The great documents of this pope are entitled: “The light of faith”; “The joy of the Gospel”; “The joy of love”; “Seas of Praise”; “The joy of truth”; “Rejoice and exult”; “All brothers.” Paul VI left these two great documents: “Rejoice in the Lord” and “The proclamation of the Gospel”. In “The Joy of the Gospel” Francis unites the two words and moves us to cultivate the sweet joy of evangelizing.
The revolution of tenderness. The renewal of the Church seeks to transparently communicate God’s style, which is closeness, compassion and tenderness. The Pope transmits the freshness of the Gospel centered on the revolution of tenderness. The exhortation “The joy of love” expresses the mercy that accompanies, discerns and integrates wounds. The encyclical “All Brothers” presents the compassion of the Good Samaritan as a model of a praxis of approach towards the vulnerable and violated. It recreates the social doctrine of the Church to promote universal brotherhood and social friendship.
Mercy is a hermeneutical principle of the pope, as noted in his openness to migrants and the protection of minors. On his first trip to Lampedusa he manifested his love to those who forcibly left home. From Ciudad Juárez to the island of Lesbos he denounces indifference, calls for hospitality, promotes integration. He tells us: “I was passing through and they welcomed me” (Mt 25,35).
From the beginning, Francis assumed two processes initiated by Benedict XVI. On the one hand, he created control organizations and decreed severe norms to fight against sin, crime, and the scandal of child abuse committed by members of the clergy. On the other, he continued the reform of the administrative and financial organisms of the Holy See so that they act with transparency, solidarity and efficiency. He once told me that this took longer than expected. In both cases he cultivates synodality to overcome clericalism, which is the arbitrary exercise of pastoral power.
Justice, peace, care for the common home. In “The Joy of the Gospel” the pope formulated the social dimension of faith centered on the poor and peace. In the socio-environmental encyclical “Laudato si” he promoted care for the common home. In an empty St. Peter’s Square, he consoled humanity in a pandemic: we are all in the same boat, no one is saved alone, the crisis is better or worse. In the book Let’s Dream Together, he brings together his creative proposals for a more just world in the post-pandemic.
In 2009 Francis visited the great Sunni imam Ahmad al-Tayyeb in Abu Dhabi. They signed the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Coexistence”, because God created all human beings equal in dignity and calls them to live together as brothers. In 2021 he made a pilgrimage to Iraq, the land of Abraham, father of the three monotheistic religions. He said that terrorist violence is a betrayal of religion and an abuse of faith. He reminds us of Jesus’ phrase: “You are all brothers” (Mt 23,9) and invites us to approach the other – male or female – with a fraternal gaze.
Among many initiatives for peace are the day of fasting for Syria; the trip to the Middle East; prayer with the authorities of Israel and Palestine; intercession for the displaced Rohingya people of Myanmar; promoting reconciliation processes in the Central African Republic, Colombia and Mozambique; mediation between the two parts of Sudan; the –unsuccessful– negotiations for the tormented Ukraine; the recent visit to the Congo and South Sudan, Catholic towns, poor and at war.
The reform of Catholicism. With the Second Vatican Council, Francis encourages a missionary and synodal reform of the Church with paradigmatic changes and irreversible processes. I recall an eloquent gesture that he told me. In 2016 he turned the summer palace of Castel Gandolfo into a museum because there Pius XII hid Jewish families and many women gave a light in the bed of the papal room.
Since 2021 we have been following an original synodal path of community listening, dialogue and discernment at the local, continental and global levels, which will have its world assembly in October 2023 and the second in 2024. The motto is: “For a synodal Church. Communion, participation, mission”.
For ten years the pope appointed new authorities and changed the canonical norms. In 2022 he promulgated the constitution “Praedicate Evangelium” on the Curia. He named six novelties: he orders the organisms at the service of evangelization and charity; it revalues episcopal conferences and oriental structures; promotes a decentralization of functions; establishes the periodicity of mandates to avoid careerism; decide that a lay person –male or female– assumes the highest responsibilities in a congregation; promotes the presence of women in government activities.
Since 1531, the Virgin of Guadalupe has kept us in the pupil of her eyes and shelters us in the hollow of her mantle. The Latin American Pope looks and lets himself be looked at by the sweetness of the eyes of the Mother of God.
the pope and the argentina
The pope is said to have a strained relationship with Argentina, where he lived for 76 years. She has? What are the tests? On the contrary, there are gestures, such as “The letter to the Argentines” of 2018 and his greeting “To the great Argentine people, health” that express his love. Some created a rough link with the pope and put him in the crack with various mechanisms: edited and edited images, repeated television plinths, choice of words, misrepresentation of notions, false news, attribution to the country of universal messages, attacks on pastoral gestures, slander based on supposed confidences, attacks on friends, manipulation of photos by politicians who visited him, etc.
Kirchnerism persecuted him while he was an archbishop, summoned him as a witness in the ESMA 1 trial and sought a way to arrest him in 2010; he carried out international operations to damage his image in the 2005 and 2013 conclaves; he manipulated information to present it close to his governments. He had many operators, related channels and a national newspaper. The macrismo operated to confront him with anti-Peronist voters because his theorists said that having him as an enemy gave votes. He had many operators, related channels and another national newspaper. They invented news, they gave repercussion to minor gestures, to polarize him they repeated that he was a Peronist; they discredited his authority with mockery.
Both powers managed to get middle-class Argentine Catholics to create a media image of the pope that does not correspond to his way of being, nor to what he thinks, nor to what he does in his pontificate. They do not know those who received them in ten years, nor those who sent them rosaries – many of them did not use them in the media – nor did they read a page of everything he wrote and said about the Church and the world. It would be enough to see how they assume the words of ex-senator Esteban Bullrich in the book El pastor.
Following Jesus, the pope never defended himself against attacks, which he knew very well. These days, by giving interviews to Argentine media that are looking for him for his tenth anniversary, he is showing his feelings, clarifying situations, giving definition, expressing his desire to visit us.
*Dean of the Faculty of Theology of the UCA.
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