Pope Francis made a pilgrimage Friday to the hillside town of Assisi and the tomb of his namesake, St. Francis, the 13th-century friar who renounced a wealthy, dissolute lifestyle to embrace a life of poverty and minister to the most destitute. St. Francis was famously told by God to “repair my house.”
In word and deed, the first pope to name himself after St. Francis has made clear how he wants to follow that command, with a church that is welcoming to all, but especially the most marginalized, and a church hierarchy that is worthy of its 1.2 billion flock.
Here are some of his main goals as he attempts to achieve the church St. Francis would have wanted.
(A CHURCH ‘THAT IS POOR AND FOR THE POOR’)
Pope Francis was having lunch Friday with the poor being cared for by a Catholic charity in Assisi. Since becoming pope in March, Francis has made it clear that one of his principal objectives is a church that is humble, looks out for the poorest and brings them hope. The “slum pope,” as he is known because of his work in Argentina’s shantytowns, recently denounced big business “idolatry” of money and sought to encourage those without the “dignity” of work.
(A CHURCH THAT WELCOMES EVERYONE, INCLUDING NONBELIEVERS)
At his first public audience a few days after his election, Francis made an unusual exception: In recognition that not all in the room were Christians or even believers, Francis offered a blessing without the traditional Catholic formula or gesture, saying he would bless each one in silence “respecting your conscience, but knowing that each one of you is a child of God.” That respect for people of different faiths or no faith at all has become a hallmark of Francis’ papacy as he actively seeks out atheists for dialogue.
(A CHURCH THAT DOESN’T JUDGE)
The pope’s “who am I to judge” comment about gays represented a radical shift in tone for the Vatican. Yes, Catholic teaching holds that gays should be treated with dignity and respect, so Francis was making no change in doctrine. But church teaching also holds that gay acts are “intrinsically disordered” – a point Francis has neglected to emphasize. This refusal to judge applies to just about anyone Francis encounters, including drug addicts and convicts. He has brought a simple message that they are loved and deserve to be loved.
(A CHURCH THAT IS ‘MESSY’ AND GOES OUTSIDE THE SACRISTY)
Francis told Argentine pilgrims during World Youth Day in July to make a “mess” in their dioceses and shake things up, even if it meant irritating their bishops. He wanted to convey his hope the church would stop being so inward-looking, and instead go out to the peripheries to spread the faith. Francis’ first trip outside Rome was to Lampedusa, an island closer to Africa than the Italian mainland. The last-minute trip was organized after several boat migrants seeking a better life in Europe drowned. Francis’ eulogy for all migrants lost at sea denounced a “globalization of indifference.” It was a prescient message given Thursday’s shipwreck off Lampedusa that killed scores of migrants.
(A CHURCH THAT ISN’T STUCK IN THE PAST OR OBSESSED WITH RULES)
Francis has made clear he cares little for the old Latin Mass and has disparaged traditionalist Catholics still very much attached to it. He has forbidden one religious order from celebrating the pre-Vatican II liturgy without specific authority, seemingly rolling back the 2007 decree signed by Benedict XVI allowing for its wider celebration. More well-known is his disagreement with the church’s “small-minded rules,” saying too many Catholics were focusing on them. Rather, he wants the church to focus on mercy.
(A REFORMED CHURCH)
Francis was elected on a mandate to reform the church, and he has set about doing that, perhaps with St. Francis’ “repair my house” instruction in mind. He has just finished three days of meetings with advisers helping him rewrite the main blueprint for how the Catholic Church is governed. Ideas include a “moderator” to make the Vatican bureaucracy run more smoothly and a revised role for the powerful secretary of state. It also includes involving lay men and women more in the life of the church. Just as St. Francis wanted !!