AS the leadership crisis in the world becomes more obvious, there is one leader whose institution is blessed to have him. None other than Pope Francis of the Catholic Church. He is a man for all time, not just the year. And the world, not just the Church, is blessed to have him.
Aside from having the common touch which probably comes from his years as a working parish priest, and a bishop who kept close to the common folk of his diocese, and finally a cardinal of his country, the first from outside Europe, Pope Francis has demonstrated that aside from an institution which is the church structure, he pays attention to and understands the personal problems of his individual parishioners vis-a-vis the church as an institution. Pope Francis is an astute observer and analyst of current events and current attitudes. He has a clear eye on the state of both the Church as well as its members. He also reflects on contemporary conditions and how the Church should meet them.
Thus, he is able to delineate the problems of our modern world and put them in the context of how not only Christians, Catholics or religiously-affiliated people should react, but human beings of any persuasion too.
That is the leadership he brings not only to his church but to the world. As violence and injustice wracks too many societies, as modern trends devalue and debase humanity, as materialism covers too many aspects of our lives, and the insistence on quick cures to complex problems makes leaders and countries take shortcuts in morality, principles and fundamental values, Pope Francis reminds us of the Christian doctrine to love God and love one’s neighbor which should underlie every action, every attitude and every vision that we may have of ourselves and others as we navigate through life.
He has remarked on the plight of migrants fleeing from untenable conditions in their societies and trying to find new homes in other places. He sees them as human beings with legitimate needs that fellow human beings should assist in fulfilling. He himself by example has taken in refugee families.
He has paid visits to prisoners, brought his presence to calamity sites or places of human suffering, such as visiting the earthquake areas of Italy and the landing point of migrants in Greece and Italy. When he visited the Philippines, he went to Leyte to commiserate with the typhoon victims.
He has visited countries and met not only with their leaders and with members of his church but with members of other churches, marginalized and unjustly treated people like the poor, prisoners, sick people and the victims of abuse by church clergy.
Pope Francis does not flinch from the truth about the unpleasant and criminal behavior of his clergy or flock but tries to mitigate the wrongs not only by accepting their reality and doing reparation but inspiring and urging them to do the same.
But most of all, he bravely tries to correct and reform from where and from whom these sins come from. Yet he exhibits compassion and charity as he faces the forces of wrongdoing.
He is presently embarked on reforming his church as an institution which has long been locked in rigidity, exclusiveness and traditions that are no longer viable for the reality of today. These conditions have resulted in distance from its flock as well as the flock’s desertion from the church for being alienated by judgmental and worldly clergy. Materialism, ambition, status-seeking has infected much of the church establishment, particularly the Curia which is the administrative arm of the church which should deal with others and itself in the light of fundamental Christianity–love God and love your neighbor as yourself—but is found wanting. Unfortunately, this administrative arm of the church which dates from the 11th century has become a stultified structure fostering materialistic, self-serving dynasties of officials, intrigue, dishonesty and a very unreligious behavior. The lure of power has been rampant. Financial scandals have come to the fore. Moral failures have become too visible. There are just too many bad examples of the results of its ultimately nefarious behavior.
It has been going on for a long time as in any institution that refuses to look at itself or recompose itself from its rut of centuries of coasting along and falling into the temptations that humans are prone too. It needs to go back to its mission of teaching and following God’s commandments, the two major tenets that Christ himself simplified and taught–-love God and love your neighbor.This is Pope Francis’ challenge to the Church. Here strong and courageous leadership is required and Pope Francis has shown it and paid the consequences with high Church officials in open revolt or in hidden conspiracy against him.
It is indeed ironic that while the world listens to Pope Francis and takes his message and example to heart, the Curia within his institution rebels against his moves to reform and revitalize it.
We need to pray for Pope Francis to remain courageous and determined, strong and persevering, unafraid to do battle if necessary in this endeavor to reform. We also need to take to heart and practice what he preaches. The Philippine church is called upon to do the same. Which reminds me about the case of Carlos Celdran who was sued by the Archdiocese of Manila for disrupting an event (not a ritual) in the Manila Cathedral some years ago. The archdiocese claims they have “forgiven” him but they have not withdrawn the case. Meanwhile, Pope Francis has forgiven the Spanish priest who leaked confidential material to journalists to the detriment of church affairs and he is now out of jail. That is mercy and compassion in action, not in words.
Pope Francis is a true contemporary leader who brings to our attention the ills that we have to address and the direction that we have to take to validate our belief in God and our fellowmen.
He needs our prayers, our support and our emulation.