Many note that this Pope is from Argentina, meaning, from one region of the world, with one particular vision of the world. But in his travels, in his preaching, in his vision, Francis is a “global shepherd,” preaching Christ to all.
Pope Francis continues to be widely misinterpreted. This has occurred largely because of his style. He is not a systematic theologian. He is a pastor through and through, a man who wishes to preach “from the heart” and to provoke hearts to conversion. A shepherd. This is entirely Catholic, and evangelical, and very much needed.
The secular media, and many outside of the Church or fallen away from the faith, have applauded this pastoral concern. Many have been attracted to him, and so to the Church, for this reason.
But many in the Church are dissatisfied, concerned, critical. They are criticizing Francis for being “confusing,” “unclear,” and “contradictory” in his teaching, and, in his manner and bearing, “unceremonial” — as if the Church at this time needed more ceremony.
We print one of these criticisms in this issue, that of Italian Catholic writer Vittorio Messori, who interviewed then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in what became the programmatic book of the Catholic “restoration” of the 1980s, The Ratzinger Report.
Despite the criticism, Francis forges ahead, unperturbed. His schedule is astonishing. His appointments are so numerous that it is hard to follow what he does at a pace which would tire three men his age.
He has just been to Asia — to Sri Lanka and the Philippines — and preached the Gospel to millions.
In February, he will meet with his cardinals to consider reforming the Roman Curia. It appears some curial offices will be closed or combined, to make the Curia more efficient.
And he will create 20 new cardinals (February 14-15), placing his own “stamp” on the Sacred College, and in this way, establishing a “line” which may carry forward to his successor.
The Pope’s choices for new cardinals do represent a type of “break” with the past. He looked outside of Italy and Europe, toward the “peripheries” of the world, to choose cardinals from places that never had cardinals before. But the men he chose are not “liberals.” In fact, these new cardinals, as so many of the Church leaders of the “peripheries,” are remarkable for their staunch, orthodox faith. And for their pastoral commitment to their flocks. One such is Cardinal Arlindo Furtado, Bishop of Santiago in the Cape Verde islands, off the coast of West Africa, who has been nicknamed “the good shepherd.” We chose him for this reason as one of our “Top Ten” people of 2014.
As Europe becomes increasingly secularized and more Islamic, it does seem that “Christian Europe” is increasingly a thing of the past. So it makes sense for the Pope of Rome to “open” to Africa, to Asia, to these “peripheries.” In these “peripheries,” the faith is vibrant, as the crowds in Sri Lanka and in the Philippines showed.
And the leaders of these “peripheral” Churches, like Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, like Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, are lions of the faith. (And both would be fascinating possible candidates for the papacy after this pontificate.)
One of the great “openings” to a “periphery” of this pontificate occurred in December, with the decision by the United States to lift the economic embargo imposed on Cuba’s communist regime, led by Fidel and Raul Castro since the 1960s. This “opening,” brokered in part by the Vatican’s diplomacy, has also been sharply criticized, as it seems to many that it does not do justice to the suffering of so many Cubans under repressive rule for 50 years. But the opening seems likely to make ordinary life less difficult for Cuba’s people, including millions of Catholics. In the process, the regime may transition into a less authoritarian form. That is the hope. We have two pieces on Cuba in this issue (pp. 16-19) and we honor the cardinal of Havana, Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, himself a prisoner of Castro for a year in the 1960s, as one of our “Top Ten” people of 2014.
We also know Pope Francis is preparing a new encyclical on stewardship of the environment. This, too, has aroused criticism, even prior to publication(!). This seems silly and impolite. Certainly some aspects of how we should be “stewards” of the earth are based on scientific judgments which may not be accurate, but the fundamental principle of caring for our world instead of poisoning it is not only important for the welfare of all of us, but entirely orthodox, drawing on 2,000 years of Christian teaching about the need to protect, defend and care for this world entrusted to us.
We know that the Pope will also come to America in September, to Philadelphia. That will be an important appointment prior to the second half of the Synod of Bishops on the Family in October. What will Francis say there, and what will he say during, or after, the Synod in October?
We have a clue in his recent homilies. Increasingly, Francis is speaking about “conversion.” Again and again in recent homilies, Francis has set at the heart of his teaching the “encounter with Christ” and the “conversion” that such an encounter sparks. Christ is at the center of his teaching, as with the teaching of every Pope.
For example, on December 16 in his morning homily, the Pope said: “The humble, poor people who trust in the Lord: these are the ones who are saved, and this is the way of the Church, isn’t it? This is the path I must follow, not the path in which I do not listen to His voice, do not accept correction and do not trust in the Lord.”
This also explains the true meaning of the most famous phrase of this pontificate thus far, his “Who am I to judge” comment, referencing someone who was in the process of reconciling with God — not a hardened, unrepentant, willful sinner. The moment in which we are able to tell the Lord, “These are my sins — they are not his or hers, they are mine…take them,” will be the moment when we become that “meek and humble people” who trust in God, the Pope said in that same homily. And he prayed that “the Lord grant us this grace.” Not surprisingly, this teaching by Francis has been virtually ignored…
In this context, we again this year chose our “Top Ten” people of 2014, who represent so many more, unacclaimed and unrecognized. But by naming these people, we mean to recognize all the unnamed people who do their work daily, and look for that blessed hope which still lies ahead.