From the start of his papacy it was immediately obvious that Pope Francis would be a little different. From that first humble bow to the crowded St. Peter’s Square on his election day it became clear that here was a man with a new vision. In an act of simple humility, he took the catholic world aback when he asked the assembled well-wishers to pray for him, the new Bishop of Rome.
In both his words and actions since that time he has continued to give expression to his vision in things like refusing to live in the Apostolic Palace preferring the company of others in the Vatican guest house, washing the feet of men and women in Roman prisons each Holy Thursday, impromptu visits to food centres and orphanages and opening up facilities in Vatican City where the homeless can wash and have a change of clothes. He refuses to travel in the customary Limo preferring instead a humbler FIAT and has simplified many of the vestments traditionally worn. He has spoken publicly about the spectre of Clericalism and careerism that have stifled change at the highest level of the church and calls for a church more in harmony with the lives of ordinary people. He has spoken powerfully about the abuse scandals that continue to shock and horrify all right thinking Catholics putting into place mechanisms to protect and safeguard children. In recent weeks he has made an abject apology over a personal stance he took in defence of an Argentinian Bishop which caused great pain and hurt to abuse victims – he got it wrong and had the humility to acknowledge that fact and seek forgiveness, he is truly a Pope with a difference.
His major documents to date have addressed important issues in a language we can all understand, he has an ease of expression that puts important issues in an easy to understand way. Just last week he issued his latest document Gaudete et Exsultate -Rejoice and be Glad. In this letter he addresses the universal call to holiness. We tend to think of holiness as pious practices for a devout few but Pope Francis rejects any such notion and presents it as the call to every man, woman and child. He makes a particular link between the call to holiness and the care of the marginalised as two sides of the same coin.
The parent caring lovingly for their child, the craftsman building or repairing, the business owner who treats his staff honestly and fairly indeed anybody who is becoming the person God wants them to be is already on the path to holiness. Holiness is not the preserve of ‘religious’ people it is for everyone. Anyone can become a saint! Like his other writings this document will draw fire on Francis – he is not without his critics, but somehow, I don’t think that will bother this Francis and more than it bothered the one from whom he took his name and inspiration, the great reformer Francis of Assisi. While our Francis has indeed come to comfort the afflicted, I suspect he would also see afflicting the comfortable as a vital part of his mission.
His new document Gaudete et Exsultate -Rejoice and be Glad is available from Veritas in Middle Abbey Street or can be read on the Vatican website – look under Apostolic Exhortations.
Fr. Philip Curran