As we mark the first anniversary of Pope Francis, the United States Conference of Bishops has released a series of reflections on the new pontiff.
Read below for commentary by Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA; Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Christian Brother Robert Bimonte, president of the National Catholic Educational Association.
Sent Out into a Messy World: the Mission of Pope Francis
by Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA
“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.” Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium, #49)
Anyone who knows about Catholic Charities in the United States knows that we are all about the messiness in people’s lives. People turn to us when things get broken: a crisis in the family, an economic setback, a personal failure, a challenge too overwhelming for their resources or emotions. In all of these situations, we try to be the hands of Christ offering hope. This is not an accident. It is our mission rooted in the Gospel.
For that reason there is overwhelming excitement and inspiration throughout the Catholic Charities network at the teaching and actions of Pope Francis. In one year’s time he has changed the focus of the Church and even the world to the plight of the poor and marginalized among us. To be sure, the teaching of the Church has not changed—the Gospel remains the same. As a testament to that tradition, his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, gave us an incredible teaching on the constitutive place of charity in the Church in the encyclical Deus Caritas Est.
But every day Pope Francis gives us concrete images of what Christian charity looks like in our time. I suspect we all have our favorite image of him: washing the feet of a juvenile offender who is Muslim and female, caressing tenderly a man whose body is ravaged by disease, playfully placing a child on his chair during a general audience. And all the time giving us the clear message that he expects no less from each of us.
To understand Pope Francis it is first of all necessary to know the importance he places on mission. The Church exists to continue the healing and saving ministry of Christ. And so Pope Francis reaches out to the poor and marginalized and brings them to the center of the Church’s life—just as Christ did so many years ago.
There are those who want to use the powerful influence and goodwill of the pope to affirm their own political beliefs. But the pope is not a politician—he is a prophet and his message transcends politics.
And there are those who try to explain to us what the pope is really trying to say because they fear people may be confused. I think Pope Francis is an amazing communicator who immediately speaks to people’s hearts. He doesn’t need an interpreter.
For me personally, I feel that I am on a permanent spiritual retreat with the pope. The first thing every morning, I check to see what his homily was about at his morning Mass. What do I find? Inspiration, validation, challenge. Pope Francis gives me these every day. And that shows me the joy of the Gospel.
How Pope Francis Inspires My Ministry
By Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz
After I met Pope Francis, during the curial visits of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last October, I remarked to others that if I were choosing a parish based upon the pastor, he would be my pastor. Now he is the world’s pastor. During this past year, Pope Francis provides inspiration in so many ways:
· As a communicator, he speaks in a fresh and creative yet very simple style and like Jesus, uses images that people understand while communicating profound theological truth. Forthright, authentic and courageous in his communication, Pope Francis also humorously challenges us, as he calls us not to be “sourpusses,” “whiners” or “princes.”
· As a “son of the Church,” intent upon passing on the time-honored teachings of Jesus and his Church in fresh and compelling ways, Pope Francis constantly asks us to rediscover the voice of Jesus and seek to look at the world with the eyes of Jesus.
· As a shepherd, he serves as a model for the New Evangelization by constantly exhorting us to see the person first and to heal wounds and warm hearts as we accompany persons with mercy and compassion. Pope Francis “walks the talk,” and successfully conveys the good news of the gospel in large audiences in St. Peter’s square, before thousands of youth in Brazil, or on his trips to the Islands of Lampedusa. And, who can forget those images of him embracing the man with a disfigured face or his patience with the young boy who was hugging his legs during one of his addresses?
· As a priest, he has positively challenged my brother priests and me with his simple lifestyle, his obvious servant leadership, his reminders about what is most important in our priestly ministry and his contagious joyful spirit. Pope Francis has provided new energy and focus for many priests.
· As a leader who is clearly interested in dialogue and consultation, Pope Francis provides a model for all bishops as he works with the newly formed College of Cardinals and prepares for the upcoming synod on the family next October.
As a Catholic, I am excited as I hear positive feedback from other Catholics and those of other faith traditions. I am proud that Pope Francis has given a new voice to the Church’s rich heritage of Catholic social teaching as he speaks of a Church for the poor and as he calls us to promote the dignity of the person from conception to natural death, to support families, and to reach out to those on the margins. In challenging a culture of indifference, what he calls a “throwaway” society, Pope Francis speaks as though the vulnerable, poor, and forgotten are members of his own family – as indeed they are.
Finally, as a person, I am inspired by Pope Francis’ humility and by his witness to what the author Flannery O’Connor describes as the prerequisites for a healthy soul: gratitude, contrition, and mission.
I join with Catholics and all people of good will in thanking Pope Francis for being a true pastor and shepherd during this first year of his papacy. My prayers are with him as he continues to serve Christ and his Church.
Pope Francis: Living What We Teach
By Brother Robert Bimonte, FSC
“Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” This statement, often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, is a perfect description of the pope who took his name.
Since the first moment he appeared on the balcony of Saint Peter’s one year ago, Pope Francis has captured the imagination – and the hopes – of Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the world. His gentle presence and transparency tell the world that this is a man truly rooted in God. He knows the power of the Gospel and proclaims it in every action and interaction with people. The message and the messenger are one.
In a world filled with competing ideologies and polarities of opinion, Pope Francis preaches a simple message of mercy and compassion. While people scream and misuse language to vilify each other in proclaiming the righteousness of their positions from community meetings to the halls of government, Pope Francis uses quiet gestures that cause the world to take notice and be inspired.
Catholic education can learn much from the example of Pope Francis. Living out of his own strong sense of justice and modeling his belief that life is not about money, possessions or titles, Pope Francis has chosen to live a very simple lifestyle which again, has captured people’s attention. But more importantly, it’s given them pause to reflect on their own values and lifestyle. He is modeling everything that we teach our students as the true qualities of a follower of Christ.
The goal of Catholic education is to prepare students to take their place in society as disciples of Christ called to live the Gospel in the world through their daily interactions with family, friends, neighbors and colleagues in the workplace. A rigorous Catholic education provides knowledge and understanding of the Gospel and the teachings of the Church.
But that education is only complete when students put their faith into action. That is why Catholic schools have a strong tradition of service to others. While helping others is a basic human value in and of itself, the emphasis that our schools place on Catholic social teaching helps students move beyond a sense of charity to a commitment to justice for all people. Authentic Catholic education truly teaches the head, heart and hands.
Our Church is blessed to have a leader like Pope Francis. In a world plagued by polarization that often erupts in war and violence, he is a man of peace who like his namesake, clearly understands that peace begins with him. His life and his actions remind all of us that only people of peace can bring peace to others. May our Catholic schools, seminaries and religious education programs be places of peace that educate and form true peacemakers like Saint Francis and Pope Francis.
Photo: CNS file photo