Indeed, this is a Pope who kisses babies. But he does much more, says Fr. Thomas Rosica, as he leads a revolution of tenderness and mercy. CNS photo

Pope Francis launched a revolution of tenderness

By  Fr. Thomas Rosica, Catholic Register Special
  • March 13, 2014

When the College of Cardinals began the conclave on March 12, 2013, the excitement and expectations were palpable. With the Habemus Papam the following afternoon came the name of a stranger, and outsider, who instantly won over the world with the words, “Fratelli e Sorelle, buona sera!” (“Brothers and sisters, good evening!”)

Who would have expected a pontificate to begin with such simple, common words? Or, in their wildest imaginings, expect a Pope to be called Francis. Then, watching this, I could not comprehend the scene as more than 100,000 cheering people suddenly became still and silent as Papa Franceso bowed and asked them to pray for him and pray over him.

It was the most moving moment I have ever experienced at a Vatican celebration.

From the very first moments, Pope Francis underlined his intention to preside in charity, echoing Ignatius of Antioch. He then brought to the papacy a knack for significant gestures that immediately conveyed powerful messages. Pope Francis’ gestures and simple words flow from his episcopal and now papal motto: Miserando atque eligendo. Jesus’ gaze of merciful tenderness (miserando) shows God’s patience, God’s response to human weakness. The motto also expresses Jesus’ mercy and His invitation (eligendo) to follow Him. These bare essentials of the Christian faith are embraced by Francis and have been shared in words that both attract and perplex us. He invites us to be reformed by standing in the gaze of Christ.

The Church is moving in new directions due to a quiet, Franciscan revolution that is sweeping the Earth. The basis of this revolution is reflected in the memorable phrases spoken by Pope Francis over the past year.

o “How I would like a Church that is poor and for the poor!”
o “Priests must be shepherds with the smell of the sheep.”
o “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! Even the atheists. Everyone!”
o “We have fallen into a globalization of indifference.”
o “Who am I to judge?”
o “I want things messy and stirred up in the Church. I want the Church to take to the streets!”
o “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”
o “The papal apartment is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight.”
o “I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.”
o “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
o “God never tires of forgiving us.”
o “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church are not all equivalent.”
o “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life.”
o “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral.”
o “I am conscious of the need to promote a sound decentralization.”
o “Mercy is the greatest of all virtues.”
o “The confessional must not be a torture chamber.”
o “The Church is not a tollhouse.”
o “I beg you bishops, avoid the scandal of being airport bishops!”
o “Mary, a woman, is more important than bishops.”
o “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

While two major documents are attributed to him — the “four- handed” encyclical Lumen Fidei and the astounding Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium — the widely circulated photo of the Pope embracing and kissing a man with a disfigured face may be considered his most profound message. It was a signal to the world’s bishops and their entire flocks. This act of compassion was transmitted like a high-definition image of the Church desired by Francis. It is Church of tenderness, mercy, welcome and a true “culture of encounter.”

As the first Pope from the developing world, Francis brings a degree of credibility on matters of economic justice that other world leaders lack. That’s not merely because of his origins, but also due to a lifestyle that favours simplicity and humility. The Pope’s messages on the need for ethics in economic life are not conservative or liberal, but Catholic. They are not socialist or capitalist, but Christian. He calls for a Church “of and for the poor” that is not turned in on itself, but is “in the streets.” Francis has lived the Church’s social teaching in his own ministry so he speaks confidently and bluntly on its demands. The Church must elevate the issue of poverty to the top of its social agenda, establishing poverty alongside abortion as its pre-eminent moral issues.

For Francis, faith enters the Church through the hearts of the poor, not through the brains of intellectuals. He argues that the message should be kept simple.

Over the past year we have become fixated on a Pope who abandoned red shoes, dresses modestly, drives a Ford Focus, calls people on the phone, brings jam sandwiches to Swiss Guards at his door and invites street people to his birthday breakfast. This is a pontiff who kisses babies and embraces the sick, the disfigured and the abandoned of society. But everything the Pope is doing is a reflection of the Lord. Pope Francis is giving us a powerful glimpse into the mind and heart of God.

What we have witnessed is a disciple of Jesus, and a faithful disciple of Ignatius of Loyola and of Francis of Assisi, repairing, renewing, reconciling and healing the Church. Some people describe him as a bold revolutionary sent to rock the boat, or even cause a shipwreck. But the only revolution Pope Francis has inaugurated is a revolution of tenderness. Through his goodness, joy and mercy, Francis is revealing the tenderness of God.

(Fr. Rosica, CSB, is CEO of the Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television and President of Assumption University in Windsor, Ont. He also serves in the Holy See Press Office and with the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.)

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