By Benedict Batabe Assorow, Managing Editor, Catholic Standard
Today marks the 10th Anniversary of the election of Cardinal Francis, as Pope. Habemus Papa (We have a Pope) came the announcement on March 13, 2013 of his election by his colleague Cardinals, as head of the about 1.5 billion Catholics worldwide. Pope Francis’ first words to the world and in particular to those gathered at Saint Peter’s Square immediately after his election was: Buona Sera, which means Good Evening in English. This was a peep into who he was and will continue to be as Pope.Pope Francis is the 266th Pope, succeeding Pope Benedict the sixteenth, who was Pope from 2005, but unexpectedly resigned on February 28, 2013. Pope Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1936. Bergoglio worked briefly as a Chemical Technologist before becoming a Priest in 1969.
He became the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and was made a Cardinal in 2001 by Saint Pope John Paul the second. The then, newly elected Pope chose the name Francis in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi. He is the first Jesuit Pope, the first from the Americas and the first from the Southern Hemisphere to ascend the throne. The past ten years of the reign of Pope Francis cannot be better summed up, than what one of his closest friends and aides, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadro, Editor in Chief of the Jesuit-run Magazine, La Civiltà Cattolica said: “The Pontiff has left an indisputably Jesuit mark on the Church and has propelled Catholicism into a more open conversation with the world, eliciting criticism, but also distinguishing himself as a Pastor and a global moral authority.”
To Catholics and non-Catholics, Pope Francis is highly regarded as perhaps the only global moral figure that there is right now in the world. He has a strong personality and clear pastoral approach that may or may not be acceptable to some people, including some of his close collaborators. It seems Pope Francis has made a choice at the level of communications not to spread his message in very traditional or closed ways, but to communicate very freely and openly, probably in a way that the Church in the past has not been used to. The Pope is, indeed, carrying many of the challenges of the Church on his shoulders. He is a man who wants to change so much, yet realises how difficult, if not impossible, it is to have many changes due to a number of resistance, more often than not, from within the Vatican itself. It is too soon to know how effective the reforms initiated by Pope Francis will be.
Pope Francis has made it clear that if authentic Church authority is to be a genuine service rather than a burden, the structures and exercise of authority must undergo a pronounced decentralisation. This is a Pope who has great concern for the poor and marginalised and who is not afraid to speak his mind in the face of injustice. He speaks up against those loud and powerful who try to monopolise religion through power, money and antique laws, that turn people away from the Church.Under his leadership, the Vatican has sanctioned several high-ranking Church officials for having covered up pedophilia by members of the clergy. Pope Francis has been stressing that the Church is not an elite of Priests and of Bishops, but that everyone forms the faithful Holy People of God. He wants a more expansive and relational understanding of public ministry in the Church. On the 10th anniversary of his election, some people see him as a bold revolutionary, chosen to make people think about their beliefs, while others believe he is too progressive in his views. Some of Pope Francis’ statements have been met with surprise throughout the world. He has said that religious dialogue must be broad and not simply focused on abortion or homosexuality. Although he does not believe that women should be ordained priests, Pope Francis feels women are an important part of the Catholic Church.
Presently, there are more women holding higher positions in the Vatican than ever before. Pope Francis shares his perspective on the richness of integral ecology, the interconnectedness of all creation in his 2015 Encyclical letter Laudato Si’, meaning (On Care for Our Common Home), which he has also applied to other areas such as politics and all human relationships and endeavours. Pope Francis has convened a worldwide consultation on the future of the Catholic Church. This consultation, called a Synodal process, began in 2021 and will conclude in 2024. It is the most ambitious dialogue ever undertaken on bringing changes in Catholic beliefs and practices since the Second Vatican Council’s reforms in 1965. It is generally accepted that Synodality has been the principal leitmotif of his papacy. His attention to the concrete reform of ecclesiastical structures may be seen to be uneven but not without promise. He has enhanced processes of consultation and created a space for honest discussion and even disagreement among Synodal participants. The ongoing Synodal process is also taking a critical look at issues of women priests, celibacy, sexuality, marriage, clericalism and hierarchism. How Pope Francis handles these issues will, to a large extent, define his legacy.
The Pope has stressed that the power of governance in the Church may be exercised by the laity in virtue of a canonical mission. Now, in addition to being members of Curial Dicasteries (Church Ministries and Departments), lay people can actually head them. A case in point is the head of the Vatican’s Ministry of Communication, headed by a lay person, Dr. Paolo Rufini.One other remarkable action of Pope Francis is his appointment of more Cardinals from places that have never had a Cardinal before. An example is the appointment of the late Cardinal Richard Baawobr, from the Diocese of Wa, here in Ghana and also Cardinals coming from some Muslim and Arab countries. The Pope does so with the conviction that those in rural areas or are minorities in other countries should have a role to play in the management of the Church at the Universal level.
During his last February visit to DR Congo and South Sudan in Africa, Pope Francis made a passionate appeal to religious leaders and governments to show solidarity with young people. He denounced the exploitation of Africa by external forces and its destruction by wars, ideologies of violence and policies that rob young people of their future. Indeed, Pope Francis has often spoken of giving Africa a voice in the Church and in the world.Of course, there is no doubt that under his leadership, the Catholic Church today is different than it was a decade ago and it is becoming more and more open than before. Even at the age of 86, with pains in his knee, Pope Francis seems not to be slowing down, but keeps carrying out heavy schedules. He is also expected to receive all the Catholic Bishops of Ghana in May, this year at the Vatican. May people of all goodwill pray for continued health and well-being and also, for God to guide Pope Francis in the decisions he takes for the Church and humanity in general. Long Live the Pope, Long Live the Catholic Church.