Mar 20, 2017
This past Monday Pope Francis celebrated his 4th anniversary as Pope. Many are calling his reforms a “pastoral conversion”. The idea is that when the Church, not just its clergy, but all of its “missionary disciples” learn how to be pastors to humanity as Jesus was, then the churches will fill and the world will be converted. This is a Latin American idea that was expressed by the bishops of South America when they gathered in Aparecida, Brazil in 2007. It was then that they called upon the Church to have a “pastoral conversion” in which the poor and the hurting were seen as central to the mission of the Church instead of the rigidity of a rule of law. In Latin America the Church has a growing evangelizing credibility in proclaiming Jesus since it now doing what Jesus did: relating first not to power groups but to their victims.
This was a central idea of the Second Vatican Council who spoke of having a fundamental “option for the poor”. Although it was expressed by the Council, it was not acted on by the ruling bishops of the time. It was as if a grand idea was announced, but it was so new and strange that very few had an idea of how to live out this option for the poor. There have been significant leaders of this expression: St. Mother Theresa and her Sisters of Charity being central actors as they reach out to all of humanity, not just members of the “club” of Catholicism.
For so many years the Church in Europe and North America had been part of the ruling elite. In some countries they were even given a share in the taxes that were collected. As Catholicism struggled to fight its way to credibility in the United States, it became very comfortable with the recognition it received from politicians and other leaders. To finally have a place at the table of power (the American presidency) was a high point for the Catholic Church of the USA. This strange thought to actually turn toward the people we once were (the outcast and marginalized) and to proclaim a pastoral Jesus to them; for too many years this was just not done.
Pope Francis has finally begun this necessary (at least to me) revolution within the Church. Some within and outside of the Church find him a little too much. They had been comfortable with the status quo. They knew how to navigate within its borders. For the last four years, we have been witnesses to the turning of the Church, away from cultural power and dominance, toward those who need us the most, the poor and marginalized.
God and the Church fathers who elected him have given us a great gift. May God continue His work through Francis for several more years.