POPE FRANCIS: 'REBUILD MY CHURCH'

POPE FRANCIS: 'REBUILD MY CHURCH'

Michael Gilchrist

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina, a son of Italian immigrants, is now Pope Francis following his election on 13 March as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. This result came on just the second day of the conclave in the Sistine Chapel.

In welcoming the election of the 266th pope, Cardinal George Pell said he was delighted with the conclave's choice of the first non-European since the 8th Century and the first Jesuit, and the new pontiff's symbolic taking his name after St Francis of Assisi.

Cardinal Pell said he was excited for the future and looked forward to working closely with Pope Francis who had vast experience and the ability to make tough decisions in taking on the issues confronting the Church. "He is a man of wide pastoral experience who has lived through very difficult times in Argentina during periods of military rule and financial turmoil.

"He will support national hierarchies in the struggle against sexual abuse, giving priority to victims, and one of his first tasks will be to examine the 300-page report on the workings of the Vatican by the three cardinals. No-one has seen the report except the former pope who left it sealed for his successor to review."

Cardinal Pell was referring to the report commissioned by Pope Benedict, which reportedly exposed a number of issues of serious concern within the Roman Curia.

Force of unity

As experienced Vatican observer Sandro Magister noted, for the cardinal-electors to have gone out of Europe for the first time in over a millennium, to have gone to a Jesuit for the first time ever, and to have gone to the runner-up at the last Conclave, was both "surprising and brilliant".

And by choosing the name of the founder of his Jesuit community's traditional rivals Pope Francis has indicated three things: his desire to be a force of unity within the Church, his concern for the world's poor, and his determination to "repair God's house, which has fallen into ruin", that is, to rebuild the Church.

In his first homily as Pope, Francis took up the "rebuild my Church" theme: "Building: to build the Church. There is talk of stones: stones have consistency, but [the stones spoken of are] living stones, stones anointed by the Holy Spirit. Build up the Church, the Bride of Christ, the cornerstone of which is the same Lord. With [every] movement in our lives, let us build! ...

"We can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. When one does not walk, one stalls. When one does not build on solid rocks, what happens? What happens is what happens to children on the beach when they make sandcastles: everything collapses; it is without consistency. When one does not profess Jesus Christ ... one professes the worldliness of the devil."

The name Francis also reflects the new pontiff's unassuming lifestyle. Having become Archbishop of Buenos Aires 1998, he left empty the luxurious episcopal residence next to the cathedral and went to live in an apartment close by, together with another elderly bishop. In the evening he was the one who did the cooking. He rarely rode in cars, commuting by bus in the cassock of an ordinary priest.

But he is also a man who knows how to govern, with firmness and against the tide. During the violence-torn Argentina of the 1970s, under military rule, when some fellow Jesuits were keen to turn to Marxist solutions, as provincial of the Society of Jesus in Argentina he energetically opposed the tendency.

As priest and bishop he urged Catholics to pick up the catechism and return to the ten commandments and the beatitudes. "This is the way of Jesus," he would say. And one who follows Jesus understands that "trampling the dignity of a woman, of a man, of a child, of an elderly person is a grave sin that cries out to heaven."

His clear, direct vision is underlined by his holiness of life. With his few and simple first words as pope he immediately won over the crowd that filled St Peter's Square. He had them pray in silence and then pray for his predecessor.

The new pope's priority, which is the same as Benedict's, was well encapsulated in the latter's letter to bishops: "The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects. Leading men and women to God, to the God who speaks in the Bible: this is the supreme and fundamental priority of the Church and of the Successor of Peter at the present time."

Everything else that the cardinals discussed before the conclave, the mismanagement of the curia and of Vatican finances, the long onslaught of sexual scandals, the divisions among churchmen, is simply the dark side of the Church's reason for being, namely "to show men and women the way to God."

It is this corruption which must be swept away decisively, if the Church is to be able to dedicate itself completely, without shadows obscuring it, to its central mission: to revive the Christian faith where it is almost extinguished and to propagate it where it has not yet arrived.

Bishop Anthony Fisher OP of Parramatta commented: "In July this year, I will lead a group of 250 young people from the Diocese of Parramatta to Rio de Janeiro where we will meet Pope Francis at World Youth Day. More than two million people are already expected to participate and, with a new Pope from Latin America, I am sure many millions more will be coming."

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