The Pope Francis Effect by Julie Clague

We had our Bible Study starting the York Lent Course on Monday March 13th and we had a good discussion on the theme of ‘Receiving Christ as children of God.’  We were asked to consider what the best things in life and the second best things in life were.  Did we have a personal relationship with God and did we feel like a child of God?  Did we wonder how God could care about ‘little old me?’  We found so much to discuss that we only considered the first 4 questions suggested.  It was a challenging and interesting discussion.

On Saturday morning whilst I was out walking the dog my eye suddenly felt odd and I discovered later that I had had a second spontaneous haemorrhage round the eye!  The doctor did not see anything sinister on Monday, it just happened for a second time!

Julie Clague gave the final theology talk of the season on the subject of ‘The Pope Francis Effect: Christian Witness in the Church and the World.

We considered:

  • What Papal agenda has Francis set for himself?
  • How does he understand his mission as pope?
  • What agenda is Francis setting for the Catholic Church?
  • What is the impact of Francis’ papacy on the church?
  • How is he seeking to witness to Christ in the Church and the wider world?

There are 1.1 billion Catholics; about 2/3 live in the Global South and ¼ live in Europe.  There are 6 million Catholics in the UK from the world church in Poland, Africa, and India.  There are 220.000 parishes and 414.000 priests, 705.000 religious sisters and 55.000 religious brothers.

Catholicism is huge in the world wide church, highly diverse, culturally variegated; there are multiple ways of being Catholic, so there are many disagreements and divisions in it.  The Church under the pope has to try and be one voice in big issues.  Some cardinals criticise the pope for wrong teaching.  The Pope is to bring unity holding the Catholic world together; show leadership; point to Christ; manage like a CEO the institution of the church. He is a teacher, enabler, empowered to promote inclusion and participation and respect diversity and difference.

The role of the pope is to build bridges not walls; speak to ordinary people and connect with and inspire people of all faiths.  He needs to foster dialogue in diversity and disagreement and nurture Christian unity, by nurturing inter-religious understanding and cooperation.  He is called to promote world peace and speak truth to political power without national interests; to be a voice for the all people, especially those left behind.

Who is Pope Francis?  He was born in Argentina in 1936 as Jorge Mario Berglio.  He is a member of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits.  Jesuits see God in all things and people and are interested in discernment and read for reflection and prayer; feeding the intellect and spiritual life.  He was ordained in 1969; he is a pope of sound bites with 10.5 million followers on Twitter.  He chose the name Francis as he served the poor.  He asked the crowd in St Peter’s Square to pray for him after he had been elected and bowed his head for 20 minutes.  He has an apartment not a palace and cooks for himself; he drives a Ford Focus not a limousine.  He is a man of the people who travels on public transport and has lunch in the Vatican canteen.

Francis has key phrases; Jesus and the gospel; mission; pastoral is very important; mercy; church of the poor; discernment – he does not want to rush into tying down teaching; decentralization (reform of church structures).  Francis wants more devolved governance to local Catholic Churches to work out for themselves.  He feels that the Vatican does not have all the answers.

He brought out the ‘Encyclical on Faith 2013 on the proclamation of the gospel in today’s world. He also brought out an Encyclical on care of the Environment and the Apostolic Exhortation on love in the Family. He sees mercy as being the foundation of church life.  He feels that the church which goes forth is a church whose doors are open.  The Church should be a place of healing where Christians patch each other up.  The Confessional was not to be a torture chamber but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better.

Francis advised the church to take account of the complexity of various situations; moral laws should not be applied as if they are stories to throw at people; need to practise discernment and not just follow rules; divorced and remarried Catholics should be supported.

However he still upholds ban on contraception but encourages responsible methods.  He apparently said; ‘if a person is gay and seeks the Lord and is of good will, who am I to judge him’ on July 29th 2013.  He continues not to support the ordination of women but he will set up a commission about women acting as deacons.  He will form a council for 9 Cardinals to help him with church reform.  He wants to scale down the curia and have a synod on the family and a worldwide synod consultation questionnaire. The Pope is trying to say that all doctrine not as important as knowing the living Christ.







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