Tuesday, October 8, 2013

With Pope Francis, the Third World has come to the Vatican

Leonardo Boff

29 September 2013

There is broad awareness of the many innovations that Pope Francis, the Bishop of Rome, as he likes to be called, has introduced in papal behavior and in his style of presiding over the Church, with tenderness, comprehension, dialogue and compassion. More than a few are perplexed, because they were accustomed to the classic style of the popes, forgetting that it is a style handed down from the pagan Roman emperors, from the name «Pope» to that richly adorned cape on their shoulders, the muceta, the symbol of absolute imperial power, which Francis promptly rejected.

We must remember once again that the present Pope comes from the periphery of the central European Church. He has a different ecclesiastical experience, with new customs and with a different way of experiencing the world and its contradictions. As he consciously expressed it in his lengthy interview with the Jesuit magazine, Civilta Catolica: «The young Churches have developed a synthesis of faith, culture and the life hereafter, which therefore is different from that developed by the older Churches». They are not characterized by change, but by stability and it is hard for them to incorporate new elements coming from the modern secular and democratic culture.

Here Pope Francis emphasizes the difference. He has the consciousness that he comes from a different manner of being Church, which has matured in the Third World. The Third World is characterized by profound social injustices, by the absurd number of favelas, shanty towns, that surround almost every city, by the always despised native cultures, and by the legacy of slavery shadowing the afro-descendants, who are subjected to great discrimination. The Church understands that, besides her specific religious mission, she cannot avoid her urgent social mission: to stand with the weak and oppressed, and to struggle for their liberation. In several gatherings the Bishops of the Latin-American and Caribbean continent, (CELAM), developed the preferential option for the poor in challenging their poverty, and the liberating evangelization.

Pope Francis comes from this ecclesiastical and cultural breeding ground. Here, in the Third World, these options, with their theological reflections, with their form of living the faith in community networks and with celebrations that incorporate the popular style of praying to God, are obvious matters. But they are not so for Christians of the old European Christianity, who are filled with traditions, theologies, cathedrals and a sense of the world impregnated with the Greek-Roman-Germanic culture in the articulation of the Christian message. Because the Pope comes from a Church that gave centrality to the poor, he first visited the refugees in the Isle of Lampedusa, continued with the Jesuit center in Rome, and then the unemployed in Corsica. It is natural for him, but it is almost a «scandal» for the Roman curia, and unprecedented to other European Christians. The option for the poor reaffirmed by the last Popes was purely rhetorical and conceptual. There was no real encounter with the poor and with those who suffer. Francis does exactly the opposite: the good news is affective and effective praxis.

Perhaps these words by Francis clarify his style of living and of seeing the mission of the Church: «I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle. It is useless to ask a gravely wounded soldier if his cholesterol and blood sugar are high. First the wounds must be healed, then we can talk of the rest». «The Church, --Pope Francis continues--, often focuses on small things, on petty precepts. The most important, much better, is to first announce: "Jesus saved you". For this, the ministers of the Church must in the first place be ministers of mercy. The structural and organizational reforms are secondary, that is, they come later. Therefore, the first reform must be the reform of attitude». «The ministers of the Gospel must be capable of warming people's hearts, of walking with them in the night, knowing how to dialogue, and also being able to enter their night, their obscurity, without getting lost». «The people of God –Pope Francis concludes– want pastors, not functionaries or clerics of the State». In Brazil, talking to the Bishops of Latin America, the Pope tasked them with forging a «revolution of tenderness».

Therefore, centrality is not given to doctrine and discipline, so dominant lately, but to humans, and their searches and inquires, be they believers or not, as Pope Francis showed in his dialogue with Eugenio Scalfari, the former editor of the Roman daily, La Repubblica, who himself is a non-believer. These are new winds that blow from the new peripheral Churches, touching the whole Church. Spring is really coming, filled with promises.

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro, alfaro_melina@yahoo.com.ar,

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