By Fr. Dino Vanin, PIME
It did not take Pope Francis long to let people know that he would stir things up more than a little for the Vatican and for the whole Catholic Church.
His first down-to-earth “Buona sera” (“good evening”) wished from the St. Peter Basilica’s balcony to the people of Rome and the rest of the waiting world, indicated to many that we were about to witness a long streak of changes. It became quickly evident that convoluted protocols and ostentatious trappings connected to the papacy will be done away with so that the successor of the Apostle Peter could be accessible to everyone, especially to the unimportant, the ordinary people, who had previously been important only in the eyes of our Heavenly Father.
Some eleven months into Pope Francis’ papacy, believers and simple onlookers alike are intrigued by the rate of changes which have brought freshness and renewed energy to some stale corners of the Church.
Thus, by now, people are surprised if a week goes by without being surprised anew by this Pontiff.
“Pontiff” is Latin for “bridge builder.” We already knew that the Popes have been the builders of the bridge uniting God to humankind. But this latest Pontiff is hard at work building bridges to reconnect also with those who have left the Church for a variety of reasons. On his watch, other bridges have been started to reach agnostics and those who had written off the Church perhaps simply for the rigidity of some of her ways. Bridges are now built and doors are open right and left.
The number of people of all creeds who are drawn to this Pontiff is unprecedented in size and unparalleled in enthusiasm.
Quite a few people, obviously unfamiliar with the power of the Holy Spirit, were wondering who and how someone could take the place of Pope Benedict XVI upon his history-making resignation. I hope that, by now, they might have wised up and been pleasantly proven wrong by the boundless power of Jesus’ Spirit.
Not a day goes by without articles being written about this Pope and the media are buzzing in expectation and awe. Here are some of the words that have become common in covering his every move: accessibility, simple lifestyle, frankness, openness, plain talk, sincere warmth, heartfelt caring, and countless others.
Well, all of them are words that we can gather about and assign to Jesus as He is presented to us in the enduring pages of the gospels!
Some of the changes brought about by Pope Francis and some of his off-the-cuff remarks have been twisted, taken out of context and given a spin by unscrupulous people who had been mercilessly critical of the Church’s stance on sensitive moral issues. These activists promote an agendum that is self-serving and contrary to the teachings of Christ. Their deliberate or unintentional reinterpretations have caused considerable confusions in those who do not realize that Pope Francis has not altered a single iota of the Deposit of the Faith, i.e. of the teachings that Christ has entrusted to the Leadership of His Church and that the Church has no power to change.
Pope Francis has only changed the wrappings, leaving the substance of Christ’s teachings intact. Insisting that the Church’s shepherds (priests and bishops) get their hands dirty and live so close to their sheep that their smell would cling to them is a fresh, new repackaging of what Jesus said on the cross: “I thirst,” (John 19:28). The Pope is living out and proclaiming to the whole world that our God is thirsting for all hearts and longing for all His children to come home to Him.
Pope Francis is wrapping the Gospel in a fresh new package to make it appealing and attractive also to those who, for any reason, are living at the peripheries or completely outside God’s global family.
Undoubtedly inspired by our Heavenly Father, the Pope is repeatedly urging all of us believers to embrace the revolution of tenderness and compassion. And he is firmly convinced that this revolution will be successful beyond our wildest expectations.