A weighty 80, and miles to go
Help Him to defend the poor, to rescue the children of the needy, and to crush their oppressors.” Psalm 72:4
Pope Francis turned 80 on Saturday 17 December.
In the past, the age factor was not considered. Pope’s carried on their work on earth until they died. Benedict XVI changed that order of things when after more than 500 years, he became the first leader in the Catholic Church to resign.
There has been so much opposition in some quarters of the Vatican to the reforms initiated by Pope Francis that he has occasionally contemplated retiring, and thereby institutionalizing papal retirement at the age of 80. However, several international leaders – and these are not just Catholic or Christian – have seriously implored him to abandon the very thought of retiring. They believe that Pope Francis is needed, not just for the Catholic Church, but to keep alive the conscience of the entire world.
On this milestone birthday of the Holy Father, the NLTCE team sums up some significant traits of the most unusual Pope to have ever stepped into the portico of the Vatican.
- He has a passion for Christ. Everyone before and around him, know that the love of Jesus and desire to follow the Lord is the golden thread that runs through his entire ministry. Once, he said to a group of toffee-noted educators, “Stay with Jesus. Learn from Jesus. Allow Jesus to warm your hearts.”
- He identifies himself as a sinner. He has kept to the traditional Catholic line on abortion, contraception, gay marriage, and women priests. But he has nuanced his stand with mercy and tolerance. Gay people have joined churches in droves after feeling welcomed by his famous “who am I to judge?” remark. He has invited transgender people into the Vatican and physically embraced them, as he has former prostitutes, and ex-priests who deserted priesthood, married, and had families. Many believe that his reforms follow his deep contemplation running on the lines of, “What would the Lord do in this situation?”
- He is on the watch for constant reformation. Pope Francis takes seriously what the Second Vatican Council said about the Church keeping itself “both holy and always in need of purification” (‘The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church,) – he reminds all that it was the SVC that turned the church away from sacramental introspection towards engagement with the wider world. The one difference is that the SVC initiated “dialogue” with other Christians, but called them “separated brethren”. For Francis they are “fellow pilgrims”, from whom we may have much to learn.Always before him is the ‘Decree on Ecumenism, 8’ – wherein it is stated that Christ “calls the Church to that constant reformation which she invariably needs.” He has opened the path to fuller inclusion of divorced and remarried Catholics within the church. He has set up a commission to investigate the possibility of women deacons.
- Financial integrity is a priority with him. Whether or not it has gone down badly with traditionalists, Pope Francis has initiated sweeping reforms of Vatican finances, relentless in his efforts to remodel the “bureaucracy known as the Curia” which used to give the Vatican its monarchial status. He is empowering the wider church.
- He is immensely popular. Some who had become cardinals and bishops before the advent of Pope Francis have been trying to thwart the Holy Father’s efforts with what one Vatican insider describes as “passive-aggressive non-compliance.” Nevertheless, opinion polls show that 85% of U.S. Catholics approve of this pope and the vast majority in UK and Europe too, love him.
- He believes dogmas are made for man, not man for dogmas. He married aspirational ideals with pragmatic pastoral compassion when he issued his document Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). When criticism was hurled at him for being “willfully vague” and fighting shy of “doctrinal clarity,” he simply smiled and said, “People are more important than dogmas.”
- His Gospel is founded on the principal of mercy. During his Year of Mercy, which ended last month, he has invited every conceivable sinner into the court of God, and established the same intent with a series of private visits to vulnerable and marginalized groups. His reason is simple, “We have to meet people where they are.” That’s what Jesus did, in case anyone has forgotten.
- He has made the Vatican truly global. He has just sacked all the conservatives from the body that governs Catholic worship. The College of Cardinals is increasingly being filled with moderate pastors rather than doctrinal sticklers. For the first time in history, Europeans are outnumbered by the rest of those who will be responsible for electing the next pope. Cardinals have been appointed from 11 countries that have never before been represented. Almost half the electors are now from the poor world.
Can you see Someone smiling from up there?
by the NLTCE News Network