Thursday, 14 March 2013

Francis of Assisi or Xavier? A missionary Pope for the Church

Source: CNS/Paul Haring
Even Vatican Radio seem to be suggesting that the new Pope has chosen his name of Francis in honour of St Francis of Assisi, taking on that instruction to 'rebuild my Church'.


And no doubt the Assisi allusion is relevant to the Pope's task at this time.

But personally I think a Jesuit is far more likely to have in mind St Francis Xavier, co-founder of his order and a great missionary to the New World.

The mission to the world

In the lead up to the Conclave many seemed to see the need to return to a charismatic, evangelical type of Pope in imitation of John Paul II.

There has also been recognition of the great challenges facing the Church in the rise of extreme Islam, and the shift in the demographic weight of the Church to Asia and South America.

The selection of a Pope from the Southern Hemisphere is symbolic in and of itself.

But how much more so the selection of the name of one of that founding group of Jesuits who vowed not only poverty, chastity and obedience, but also to convert the Muslims in the Middle East (or, failing this, carry out the wishes of the Pope)?

St Francis Xavier in fact ended up focusing mainly on Asia, in areas colonised by the Portuguese, as well as India, Japan, and China.   He is reputed to have converted more people than anyone since St Paul.

A worthy model then, for a Pope facing the challenges of today!

Engagement in the public square

The new Pope has a reputation not only for active evangelization, including street missions to those not part of parishes in this Year of Faith, but also for speaking up vigorously in defense of Church teaching on issues such as homosexuality and abortion in his home country, so that too should be a big positive in his new role.

But he also seems to have been somewhat creative in finding ways of getting out the message that the Church differentiates between the sinner and the sin, establishing a Commission for the divorced in his diocese, and washing the feet of people with AIDS.

That sort of thing won't go down well with (American-style) conservatives I suspect.

But I do think a recovery of what social justice genuinely means, including its pro-life dimensions, is important for the life of the Church, and reflects the real challenges faced by Catholics in much of the world outside Europe and the West.

And this kind of thinking and action seems to be very much needed in Rome, as is Francis' reputedly vigorous approach to reforming his own diocese.

Welcome too, will be the new Pope's reputed hatred for careerism amongst the clergy...

Simplicity and the 'Petrine Ministry'

The new Pope is also reputed to live a life of great simplicity, and we've already seen some signs of this, with the ditching of the red papal mozzetta on the balcony.

I know many traddies won't be happy about this, but I actually do think a bit of purging of some of the less important accretions of recent centuries is no bad thing.

The previous Pope put a renewed emphasis on the idea of the 'Petrine ministry', the bishop who strengthens his brethren in the faith and guarantees the faithfulness of the Church, rather than someone who acts as absolute ruler in imitation of the mode of those post-Reformation (mostly Protestant) seventeenth century European monarchs.

Personally, I've always thought it rather ironic that the Pope who ditched most of the papal regalia, Paul VI, was one of the most absolutist of them all, particularly when it came to imposing the new liturgy.

So we should be grateful that the current Pope seems likely to continue to Pope Benedict XVI's line of development on the papal office, returning to an earlier mode of papacy, where the Pope's role is to encourage secular rulers to do the right thing, and correct where it goes astray, not to attempt to rule in the secular sphere himself or impose things unduly on the faithful.

The challenge, of course, is to ensure that enough of the symbolism and pageantry is retained to make the link with tradition clear, and remind us of higher realities.

I suspect that we cannot hope, from a Jesuit, for a deep liturgical sensibility of the kind exhibited by Pope Benedict XVI, but of course, we may yet be happily surprised.  And I'm given some hope with the news that he is an opera fan, Ordinary for Eastern Rite Catholics, and a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

In any case, I for one liked that call for silent prayer from the balcony, and it did seem to be very effective.

Pray for Pope Francis, to be formally installed next Tuesday.


Joshua said...

I fully agree.

I have been horrified to read the bile and sheer rudeness of Traddies all foaming at the mouth already - so much for due deference to the Vicar of Christ Himself!

I pray and hope that Pope Francis will be a blessing to our Church and our world, and was very moved by his call for us to pray for him before he then blessed us from the loggia of St Peter's.

Kate Edwards said...

Though I'm encourged by the fact that the aCatholicas apparently share the radtrad reaction to the outcome. IN the medium lies orthodoxy?

Joshua said...


I'm sure Marini can find sober vestments for him to wear.

And I expect he's learnt how to say Mass by now.

So away with Traddies saying nasty things!

He sounds like he wants to preach the faith and live it.

That is what we need.

Fr Adrian-John said...

Francis of Assisi
First Pope to use the name Francis, numerals not used.

Bear said...

Possibly St Francis Borgia: he was a missionary Jesuit to South America (the Spanish bits). Although he had some unfortunate relatives (think of a Pope and his children), he worked tirelessly for the poor and the indigenous population.

I imagine that this St Francis might also be in the Pope's mind - although is often overlooked outside of Latin America.