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So Much Ado About “Fiducia Supplicans,” Part 2

Having looked at the resume of Pope Francis, he is a complex thinker whose theological and yes, political views do not fit neatly common categories we often box people in. He has a wide range of views from being illiberal to radical. He is clearly influenced by traditional Catholic past, liberal ideas of the Society of Jesus, and tempered liberation theology of Peruvian Gustavo Gutierrez, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, and Jesuit scholar Jon Sobrino, and the radical views of Jesus Christ.

This is the richness that Pope Francis brings to the table. He prefers unity over conflict and realities rather than abstract ideas or theories. Most importantly, he prefers the whole (i.e., Catholic Church) instead of parts (i.e., conservative cardinals or bishops). Meaning, that the future of the Catholic Church is more important to him than the whining of Cardinal Burke and the like.

In his papal writings such as Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Sí, the moral reasoning and ethical theories remain constant. Understanding them clarify what Pope Francis believes are his operative priorities in areas like pastoral practice (blessing of same-sex couples), theological analysis (imperfect people need God’s blessings as well), and pluralistic dialogue (speaking and listening reveals both common understanding and real differences). For those who don’t understand where he is coming from, he appears like a bully, a dictator.

One of the first things he did as Pope Francis was to issue his first Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel) on November 24, 2013, at the conclusion of the Year of Faith. The exhortation is 220 plus pages plus the indices. It is not a publication one can read and understand easily without exercising patience and days, if not months, of contemplation. Reading and understanding this publication is key to understanding “Fiducia.”

Pope Francis took a perpetual vow as a Jesuit and that is what he brings to the table – his loyalty and dedication to evangelize in the name of Jesus.  He brought to Rome a whole new vision that is rooted in the joy of the Gospel. As a bishop, then archbishop and as a Cardinal, Jorge Bergoglio was a man of humility who constantly championed the causes of justice and service to the poor.

Let’s begin with Revelation 3:20, the starting point of Pope Francis’ papacy. It reads “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” Over the years, the Church interpreted this as the faithful entering the Church to have an encounter with Jesus. Pope Francis is saying otherwise. His understanding is rooted in the Acts of the Apostles with Jesus’ first word, “Follow me!” and his last words commanding the apostles to go out there and evangelize.

Pope Francis suggested in “Evangelii Gaudium ‘’ that Jesus was not knocking for the purpose of entering but inviting the church to come out with him into the world where he sent his apostles, especially to the peripheries. Francis’ pastoral vision of moving the doors towards the peripheries, to embrace the poor, the vulnerable, and those who felt outcast by the very church they used to love, is a recurring theme in his encyclicals. Pope Francis is asking us to embrace all of God’s people, not just the poor and isolated, those in prison, orphaned, widowed, sick, including gay and lesbian, and proclaim the joy of the Gospel without prejudice.

To journey and accompany the people of God is to commune and listen to each of these individuals to understand how God might be speaking to us. Each person is unique in a way that only God knows what’s unique about them. Listening is without making judgement and accompanying them under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When a priest gives his pastoral blessing to same-sex couple or a divorcee, it is an opportunity for the priest to show pastoral charity and trust the Holy Spirit to do the rest.

The other theme that Pope Francis has embedded into his theological vision is one that is like St. Francis of Assisi’s life and mission – a poor pastor in the image and likeness of God’s poor son Jesus. He has repeatedly said before that he is “a sinner” against the light of God’s overwhelming mercy. “Jesus dying on the cross is God’s way of showing us the greatest example of mercy.

As pope, Francis models that of Simon Peter – the first pope of the Catholic Church. He introduced us to what can be considered as the “Peter Paradigm.” When Jesus gave Simon a new name Petros (Peter) the Rock (Gospel of Matthew 16:13-20), he entrusted him with shepherding a Christian community and sent him on a mission. Pope Francis understands Christ is the Messiah who entrusted Peter with a mission to evangelize. As Peter’s successor, he understands his missiology.

Synodality that Pope Francis is pushing for follows this framework of community, identity, and mission with St. Francis of Assisi as his mentor. Francis of Assisi embraced poverty with unprecedented zeal, relentless in his pursuit to reform the church in response to Jesus’ telling him through the San Damiano Cross in a chapel in Assisi, Italy “to rebuild My church,”- the Catholic Church, “which is falling into ruins.”

Furthermore, Francis of Assisi was asked by Jesus to “love nature and all living creatures as his sisters and brothers.” Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Sí” is about taking care of planet earth and that climate change and environmental degradation is hurting the poor the most and castigating the wealthy for their oppressive ways. Francis of Assisi, as commanded by Jesus, journeyed to Egypt to meet a Muslim sultan.

Pope Francis traveled to the Gulf-kingdom of Bahrain last year and met with Muslim leaders to continue what Francis of Assisi began – interfaith dialogue. He said that “interreligious dialogue requires sincerity and mutual respect to be fruitful. Inter-religious dialogue and ecumenism are key components for achieving synodality. In “Fiducia,” he is trying to make peace with those shunned by the church and bring Jesus’ teachings on mercy and charity. So, the pope is being consistent and true to his beliefs and vision.

In today’s current state of play, “On this rock I will build my church” is interpreted by Francis as rebuilding or reforming the Universal Church (not only the Catholic Church) through Peter the Rock who was given the keys of the kingdom of heaven and insists on going back to the Acts of the Apostle for restart. The pope is seeing himself as a disciple of Jesus out to carry out his Trinity-given mission of mercy as he rebuilds a community (universal church for the world).

“Fiducia” has all the markings of Pope Francis’ dreams he elucidated in his first encyclical Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith) to have the light of faith that Francis of Assisi and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta brought to the poor, including those poor in spirit.


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