Church of the poor

  • March 22, 2013

“Oh, how I wish for a Church that was poor and for the poor!”

Thus spoke Pope Francis after his surprise election as Pope. He was addressing more than 5,000 international journalists, many who’d come in search of clues to what this unconventional new Pope was all about.

But it doesn’t seem to take a Sherlock Holmes to figure out Pope Francis. He has been refreshingly vocal and transparent since the moment March 13 when he stepped onto a balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square and humbly asked thousands of people below to pray for him. Pope Francis seeks a Church of service and compassion, of contrition and peace, of hope and forgiveness, of evangelization and energy. A Church that is free of pride, ego, ambition and corruption. A Church that is generous and loving and one that is spiritual and always Christ centred.

It is a vision of the Church proposed 800 years ago by Francis of Assisi and now resurrected by Pope Francis. In retrospect, the surprise is not that Cardinal Bergoglio adopted the name and mission of St. Francis but that it took so many centuries for any pope to do so.

Much has been written in recent weeks about the challenges facing the successor to Pope Benedict XVI. But when it came to prioritizing the needs of the Church, the cardinals got it right in turning to Pope Francis. The top priority is not the curia, clerical misconduct, ecumenism, secularization, evangelization or any of the other temporal matters that consume papal hours. They are important, yes, but the top priority, the one so often overlooked, is the same as it was 2,000 years ago — to ensure the Church is faithful to the example and the teaching of Jesus.

In the 12th century, Francis of Assisi was awakened to that fundamental truth and emboldened by it. More than 800 years later, 115 cardinals, guided by the Holy Spirit, were similarly moved and selected an unassuming angel of the poor as the 266th pope.

The cardinals may not have had the example of St. Francis specifically in mind when casting their ballots, but the name of the Italian saint came immediately to Cardinal Bergoglio when he learned he was to become Pope.

“For me he (St. Francis) is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and safeguards creation,” said Pope Francis.

That is the type of Pope that Francis hopes to be and the type of Church he aspires to build. He has challenged Catholics to follow him and protect the vulnerable, champion peace and, like St. Francis, be dedicated to the Gospels and their message of service.

To be a Church that is poor and for the poor.

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