MORE THAN TWO WEEKS AGO, THURSDAY MARCH 13, WAS THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF POPE FRANCIS’ ELECTION AND ACCESSION TO THE PAPACY.
Millions of Catholics who admire the spirituality of the heirs of the religious St. Ignatius Loyola are overjoyed that at last a Jesuit has become pope. Many of these are expecting Pope Francis to be as revolutionary as many of the Jesuits have been in bringing about reforms and good social works in education, governance and politics, the fight against the injustices of employers against labor and of landlords against the peasantry.
But those who hope that Pope Francis is going to be so revolutionary as to overturn the hallowed doctrines of Holy Mother Church about the priesthood, marriage between homosexuals, abortion and artificial contraceptives that are abortifacients will be disappointed. In his first months as the Holy Father, he has made it amply clear that he would not go against the doctrines and customs of the Church–and that ideologically he belongs to the stream of doctrinally faithful popes like John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
When Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina chose Francis for his papal name, everyone who understood what it signified was delighted. He would be lead the Church into becoming as caring for the poor, as self-giving to the shirtless, the homeless, the desperately needy as the founder of that other great society, the Franciscan Order.
And that is what he has indeed proved to be during his first year as our Pope Francis. He has grown to be loved and admired for his personal warmth and lovingness to the poor and the sick–kissing without flinching a man pocked with sores, giving homilies, pastoral letters and messages to us, his flock, prodding us to be closer to the people who have out of resentment or unfortunate circumstances turned away from our Church.
He has never given any hint that he holds lax moral positions but he has made stirring calls for tolerance, warm friendship and compassion for those who are divorced, or who have had abortions, are contraceptive pill users or are practicing the gay lifestyles. Indeed, how can we be welcoming to these fellow Catholics whose practices violate the moral and religious codes of our Church, which is also their Church, if they feel our animosity and our sanctimonious superiority? Pope Francis is asking us to be other Christs to these brothers and sisters of ours who have fallen away. And he wants us to bear in mind that we are also sinners–perhaps worst–than these dear estranged brethren of ours.
He touchingly, stunningly, demonstrated, on the day he became our Pope, the humility that makes him the child of God that all of us should be. He asked us to pray for him–a sinner.
Pope Francis in his first year as our Supreme Pontiff has also done some temporally commendable accomplishments in the way the Vatican is run. He has asked Vatican officials and employees to adopt a simpler and less ceremonial manner of conducting business. And he has reformed the way money is handled. (By the way, the thorough and rigorous investigation of possible wrongdoings by the monsignors who formerly managed the office that is known as “the Vatican Bank” was completed the other day. The investigators found no crime or attempts to defraud.)
The respected veteran journalist and Vatican watcher, who has written many books about the Church and the Papacy, John Allen, is the associate editor of the Boston Globe and a former editor of a leading Catholic daily. He was here in Metro Manila two weeks ago and spoke at forums held in the Ateneo University.
He tells audiences that the most significant point to attend to about Pope Francis’ first year “is that he’s accomplished far more than most of us could have reasonably expected … both in terms of style and in terms of substance…. He’s invigorated the Church at the grass roots level…”
Pope Francis reminds his fellow priests–and all of us Catholics–that they should above all be loving pastors and, like Christ, like God, givers of mercy.