A pope who likes to shake things up

A pope who likes to shake things up

What to make of a pope who tells young Catholics to go back to their dioceses and “make a mess!”

Or, allowing for ambiguity in translation, “stir up trouble!” or “shake things up!”

However the words were rendered into English, one thing was clear: Pope Francis believes that the old ways of the church are not enough in today’s world, that it needs new approaches, a shake-up – which of course is what the pope is trying to do at the Vatican, as well.

Here’s how the Vatican officially translated the pope’s remarks, delivered off-the-cuff to Argentinian pilgrims at World Youth Day in Brazil:

“I want you to make yourselves heard in your dioceses, I want the noise to go out, I want the church to go out onto the streets, I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves. The parishes, the schools, the institutions are made for going out ... if they don’t, they become an NGO, and the church cannot be an NGO. May the bishops and priests forgive me if some of you create a bit of confusion afterward. That’s my advice. Thanks for whatever you can do.”

That’s a radical message from a pope, and yet it was perfectly in line with Francis’ effort to move the church out of the sacristy and into the street, away from theological debates and toward real-life encounters with the suffering and marginalized.

Throughout his seven days in Brazil, the pope tried to do just that. He lunched with young people and heard their confessions, prayed with inmates and visited recovering drug addicts, embraced the sick at a local hospital, chatted with a poor family in a Rio de Janeiro slum and challenged the world’s powerful to end social and economic inequality.

The pope communicated solidarity in small ways that caught people’s attention, too: asking trash pickers to join him on the papal platform for the Stations of the Cross, for example, or arriving in a simple grey sedan instead of an armored limousine.

His meetings and gestures humanized the church’s social teaching, making it less abstract. In one pastoral setting after another, the pope himself came across more as a figure from the Gospel than an official from Rome.

For those and other reasons, Pope Francis can look at his first foreign trip as a success on many fronts.

-- He critiqued what he called a “culture of selfishness and individualism,” saying that an economic model based on material gain has been unable to feed the hungry or make people truly happy. That’s a message that seemed to resonate with young people, especially when the pope took aim at the corruption and economic injustice that’s helped spawn recent protests in Brazil.

-- The pope implicitly addressed the challenge raised by Pentecostal and evangelical communities, which have attracted many Brazilian Catholics over the last 30 years. He did so primarily by showing attention to spiritual needs of the suffering – the kind of attention many say they have not found in the Catholic Church.

On another level, Francis’ insistence on the Gospel of the poor stood in marked contrast with the “prosperity theology” espoused by some Brazilian Christian preachers.

And while he spoke of an “exodus” of Catholics in recent decades, the pope made clear that his evangelization strategy is not so much about restoring the Catholic Church’s numbers, but revitalizing its energy throughout Latin America and the world. As he told young people at the closing Mass, “The church needs you, your enthusiasm, your creativity and the joy that is so characteristic of you.”

-- He gave some strong marching orders to Catholic ministers and pastoral workers, telling them to promote a “culture of encounter” with those outside the church: “We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel! It is not enough simply to open the door in welcome, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people!”

And taking a page from his own playbook, the pope encouraged ministers to reject intellectualism and speak the language of simplicity. He spelled it out bluntly: “At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying.”

-- Francis connected with the young – but reminded them to keep in mind the elderly. It was clear that the pope sees young people in the church as part of a larger community, not as an isolated subset that needs a special “marketing” approach by the hierarchy.

He emphasized that young people need to appreciate the experience and wisdom of elders, who are often forgotten by society. In this way, he introduced a new theme into World Youth Day: that the young and the old are sometimes victims of our modern economy, which treats both categories as disposable. "We do the elderly an injustice. We set them aside as if they had nothing to offer us," he said.

-- In his speeches, the pope had little or nothing to say about hot button issues like abortion, birth control, gay marriage or sexual permissiveness. But at the closing Mass, he asked to personally bless a baby girl born with anencephaly, a condition in which a large part of the brain is missing. Most children with the condition do not survive or are aborted. The pope’s gesture, in the view of Vatican officials, spoke much louder than a speech about abortion.

-- The 76-year-old pope’s high energy level during the trip, especially his enthusiasm in crowd settings, put to rest any concerns about his age or health.

As he heads back to Rome, the success of this trip is going to segue into tough challenges. When September rolls around, he’ll go from a long honeymoon into a season of expected results on a wide variety of issues, including Curia reform, the Vatican bank, collegiality and governance.

At some point, he’ll be expected to spell out some details behind the popular phrases like “going to the outskirts” to evangelize. Does that mean building bridges to disaffected Catholics? Opening up the sacraments for those who are divorced and remarried? Bringing more lay men and women in to decision-making positions at the highest church levels? Asking bishops and priests to give up some of the material privileges they enjoy?

We’ll see in coming months if he takes his own advice and shakes things up at the Vatican. And we’ll see if he makes a bit of a “mess” along the way.


11 comments (Add your own)

1. Br. Tony Jukes, S.S.S. wrote:
Thanks for your wonderful synopsis of this World Youth Day 2013.

Let’s hope the effects WYD are abiding with true apostolic on-going results, both for our youth as well as the clergy, religious, and bishops. Hope the clerical side of the Church puts into action the Papal messages of the past week, and not let the embers die.

Sun, July 28, 2013 @ 11:12 AM

2. Trish J wrote:
Thanks so much for this report. I feel a great relief that sexual issues are not now featured front and center all the time. For decades it seemed they were the only issues reported on, discussed, argued over and promulgated. Pope Francis is restoring some much needed Gospel balance, and I notice his voice is heard in a wider context than the Catholic community as he has already gained respect from people of other faiths, non-believers and the secular press.

You say: “Going to the outskirts” to evangelize. Does that mean building bridges to disaffected Catholics? Opening up the sacraments for those who are divorced and remarried? Bringing more lay men and women in to decision-making positions at the highest church levels? Asking bishops and priests to give up some of the material privileges they enjoy?" I believe it means all of the above and more!

Sun, July 28, 2013 @ 11:57 AM

3. John Donaghy wrote:
A great analysis. Pope Francis is really shaking things up.

However, I do have problems with the Vatican's translation of Pope Francis's remarks to the Argentinian youth. I commented on this on my blog: http://hermanojuancito.blogspot.com/2013/07/raise-ruckus.html

I was particularly concerned about the lame translation of his remark to bishops and priests which probably should read: "May you bishops and priests forgive me if some one later raises a ruckus for you."

Thanks from Honduras.

Sun, July 28, 2013 @ 1:51 PM

4. anna wrote:
"Let us not reduce the involvement of women in the Church, but instead promote their active role in the ecclesial community. By losing women, the Church risks becoming sterile" is another from the speech to the Bishops that can't be forgotten! :)

Sun, July 28, 2013 @ 2:14 PM

5. mike robertson wrote:
I cannot disagree with anything the Holy Father said. Unborn girls and boys are legally killed every day. This is a horror crying to Heaven. The Pope need not say this every day, but those victims are the saddest victims of modern man's and woman's cruelty to our neighbor. The Pope need not talk about marriage every day. But he said attempts to codify same-sex "marriage" are attempts from the Father of Lies (i.e. Satan) The Pope need not talk about sex every day. But Jesus said even to look at a woman with lust is to commit adultery in one's heart. This loving, merciful God the Son calls us to, what is in human terms, impossible tasks. But He also tells us His grace is sufficient and He will not let us be tempted beyond our level of endurance and that His commandments are not burdensome. We can never make God into our servant to give us what we ask while we are free to have contempt for His laws. In doing this, we make ourselves the master and Make the true Master our slave.

Sun, July 28, 2013 @ 2:37 PM

6. FR B wrote:
Has anyone noticed that while Pope Francis speaks a lot about the poor and the elderly, he rarely speaks to the poor and the elderly. I don't know what to make of it but it seems strange.

Sun, July 28, 2013 @ 5:20 PM

7. Jim wrote:
There is no more sacristy. There is no space treated as sacred anymore so one must ask, "How could one move from a sacristy to a street?"

Perhaps we are to recognise that there is the King's Highway which leads to the Sacristy, and the Sacristy should lead us back into the street.

Hold sacred the Sanctuary of the Lord, follow His exacting and worshipful rites, be not prideful and think all may trod unshod at His Altar, but all may trod as He leads us on the Road to Emmaus.

This perhaps is better than the clericalism of ugly modern rites which do nothing but cause the young to flee to pornography in search of the beautiful.

Viva Il Papa Francesco.

Sun, July 28, 2013 @ 6:04 PM

8. Bill G wrote:
I have read many of Pope Francis's homilies and statements. I find most of them to be so unspecific that they may be used in ways not intended. I will look forward to much more clarity from the Pope and live in the hope that it is forthcoming before a real "mess" happens.

Sun, July 28, 2013 @ 7:22 PM

9. Kelly wrote:
He spoke directly to the poor in the quite electric favela trip. That was quite electric. Cardinal Bergoglio apparently spent a majority of his time in the "villas" in Buenos Aires. He worked directly with the poor. However, it is pretty difficult to do it in his current position. The favela trip was quite costly and while it likely had a huge impact, Francis cannot just pop in on the poorer areas of Rome when he would like to.

And overall the trip was a stunning success, comparable to any of JPII's trips. I'm surprised the Brazilians let him leave. They seemed quite enamored with him.

Sun, July 28, 2013 @ 7:28 PM

10. TohCal wrote:
I don't understand FR B's comment. Pope Francis actually added a visit to the slums to his itinerary in Rio, including actual stops in the residents' hovels. He personally insisted that garbage collectors be included on the dais with him at one point. He visits prisons (like on Holy Thursday) and hospitals ... and frequently falls behind-schedule because he orders the popemobile stopped so he can embrace children, the poor, the disabled and the elderly.

And of course every time he talks to a bishop he's talking to somebody OLD!!!

Sun, July 28, 2013 @ 7:54 PM

11. Mike wrote:
"Does that mean . . . [o]pening up the sacraments for those who are divorced and remarried?"

THAT would mean trashing the deposit of faith and Church teaching regarding Christian marriage. Despite the misinformed hopes of those who apparently have got their (heavily Pelagian) catechesis from sources approved by the New York Times and MSNBC, it seems highly unlikely.

Mon, July 29, 2013 @ 6:03 AM

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