The black smoke turned white, a captivating dramaturgy since 1870. And there he was on the balcony, addressing the huge crowd the way St Francis of Assisi did, fratelli, sorelle, brothers, sisters–we are all God’s children. He took to the roles as Bishop of Rome and Holy Father like a fish to water, with a mild voice, becoming a mild face, the first Latin American pope, a part of the world moving South. With dark shadows from Argentinean fascism for reflection, learning.
Fratello lupo, St Francis said, Brother Wolf, the ferocious wolf of Gubbio, eating villagers, taken in by St Francis, persuaded to eat leftovers from meals instead, ends up joining the villagers.
Sorella morte, St Francis said, Sister Death, when time had come, embracing the inevitable as a part of his immense spirituality. But the Gubbio violence was not inevitable; the wolf was starving, nothing to eat, the solution was food. Like wolf, like poor people, people in misery, anywhere, at any time. The Franciscan message.
Cardinal Bergoglio has taken on a heavy inheritance in his choice of name; the forgettable Cardinal Ratzinger was much more modest. He has committed himself not only to the poor, but to peace, the unspoken word in the oceans of commentary, to horizontal peace between killers with teeth and arms, wolves and villagers, and to the vertical violence of starvation and misery, due to the greed of humans.
But the commentary has focused on pedophilia and sex in general, on same sex marriage, on financial distress, bureaucratic disorder, on dogma. Look, very few believe in infallibility, the blessings of celibacy and extra ecclesiam nulla salvus-outside church no salvation. They believe in the church, 1.2 billion strong, as a home providing meaning and services, hopefully doing more good than bad. The issues picked for commentary matter, but are petty in comparison with the St Francis challenge. Hold him to his name. He may have high goals.
The first Jesuit pope. The Society of Jesus, founded by Ignatius de Loyola, was a renewal movement from the inside in 1534 after the huge outside reforma, the protestantisms, Luther-1517 in particular. More than four centuries was needed to reach the top; maybe the Church changed, maybe Pope Francis is a soft Jesuit. Jesuits are known for being priests exercising their ministry, and for having a second profession, often as intellectuals, and high level ones. Pope Francis has the same double reputation. Promising.
“Jesuit” invariably brings up the Experimento Sagrado, lifting the bottom up, not only Guarani Indians in Paraguay by using their land pattern–collective ownership and private use, but use it well— but lifting up Paraguay itself. When liberated from Spain, using the same pattern as opposed to exporting resources to the West, it became the richest country in Latin America. Till attacked by England and its neighbors, the pope’s Argentina among them. Pope Francis knows this story in and out. Hold him to his Jesuit background; much to lean on.
Popes with considerably less to build on, popes choosing very ordinary, non-committal names, like John XXIII or John Paul II, renewed the church through Vatican II and ecumenical policies, transcending borders drawn in the catastrophic eleventh century. Maybe they managed because they did not challenge as much the dogmas and the curia? From Jesuits to Opus Dei, they are all in that same universal church, making us understand those who argue against the Catholic Church as a federation. As a unitary church it is certainly flexible.
Archbishop Hélder Câmara of Recife, Brazil–called a saint when he fed the poor and a communist when he asked why they were poor–saw creation as co-creation, humans with God. That is dynamic, and opens for new vistas. He would have been a fine cardinal and pope, but that mantle now fits nicely on Cardinal Bergoglio’s shoulders. From the continent of liberation theology, Gustavo Gutierrez, Leonardo Boff as active as ever.
What would catapult the Catholic Church up front in the world? Giving the world a sense that deep down the Church still attends to the spiritual and material needs of all with compassion and love.
We all have the freedom to make lists of pious wishes:
Restore the triangle of the abrahamic faiths Judaism-Christianity-Islam; not Judeo-Christianity against Islam. Continue the 15th century dialogues of Al-Andaluz and the work of Bishop Juan de Segovia who translated the Qur’an. Their christologies will differ; so be it.
Make Jerusalem, West and East, the site of the capitals of two states and also the site of this ecumenical dialogue for the best in the three faiths. Could the Old City get a status similar to the Vatican?
Expand this work for spirituality in all directions, in dialogue with all faiths and worldviews, building on the fine work by Hans Küng (what a consultant for Pope Francis!); for unity in diversity.
Attend to the material needs by lifting the bottom up, following the Jesuits and that other admirer of Jesus the Christ, Hugo Chávez. Attend to the individual suffering of the poor, but also to their collective suffering, as class, peoples, nations.
Attend to the other message from St Francis: he did not give alms to the hungry wolf but solved the conflict with the villagers, created togetherness. The Catholic, universal, church is about that. An argument against a liberation theology that divided the congregation of believers, making it difficult to worship in the same church.
Make the church gender-neutral and let celibacy wither away.
But gender is not the only faultline to be bridged; generation and race, class and nation, center and periphery. Pope Francis bridges the latter; he owes to all the others his full attention.
And in that spirit: find a way of suspending the Bolla Papale Inter Coetera of 4 May 1493, establishing Western colonialism as gift from the pope to the Spanish kings. The creation belongs to us all.
18 March 2013