His previous job descriptions would generally never lead to priestly ordination, let alone coronation as Bishop of Rome and head of the Universal Church. But here we are with a former child actor, a nightclub bouncer, and a chemistry teacher ascending the inherited throne of St. Peter. And effectively continuing in near perfection the apostolic mission of the first of Christ’s apostles. It was not only his early engagements in life, but also the storms that he blighted this place, Francis, firmly in the garth of the elect, that was divinely assigned a purpose to be accomplished on earth. Surviving a life-threatening lung disease at a time when medical science was not as advanced as it is today indeed confirms that François, born Mario Jorg Bergolio, had a great mission assigned at birth.
Fast-forward to a journey through the clay-crammed streets of Pasaje and the cobblestone curbs of Buenos Aires after a stint in Cordoba, then Rome. Look at the trajectory of his work as a Jesuit priest and Superior of the Order in Argentina. This confirms, with the totality of the controversies that followed his tenure and how he thwarted them, that the man is specially placed in the custody of the Most High for a purpose. Even as a cardinal, Bergolio had reached retirement age and his letter had been received at the Vatican. But God had a reason to delay this action until the resignation of his immediate successor, Benedict XVI.
All the burning, tending and polishing of a lifetime’s journey had an intended use on March 13, 2013, when the world stood up in awe to see from the balcony of the Vatican, Cardinal Bergolio as 266th successor of Saint Peter and shepherd, pastor of the Mother Church, the Catholic Church. In any case, Francis was a man of the era, of an immutable era. He’s an old man who blends in with the youth in such a fascinating way. Francis is a clergyman who understands the power of media, whether new or traditional. He feels the pains of ordinary people. Pathos – primarily the sympathy more than the empathy he exudes when dealing with universal disasters like forced migration, earthquakes and man-made tribulations like wars – is of importance endearing. Francis turned out to be an old churchman with a modern affiliation with the social world. The manner in which he executes his papacy transcends dogma and doctrine.
Three popes have reigned in my life so far. I was born under the pontificate of Jean-Paul II (Karol Wotyla). Benedict XVI (Josef Ratzinger) began dominating the Church when I was a student. Unlike Saint John Paul II, whose papacy I read about, I was fully aware of the essence and role of the pontiff, and I could identify with Benedict’s style. While Wotyla was something of an activist, a hands-on pastor, Benedict was a teacher who was keen to follow church dogma – an uncompromising student of the church even at a level of reclusive detachment. Francis came as a single father firmly rooted in his children’s journeys. I am personally caught by his assertion that “The church is a field hospital after battle…” He expands the boundary of this belief in an exhortation he called Evangelii Gauddium, interpreted simply as The Joy of Gospel, in which he said “I prefer a Church bruised, wounded and dirty because it has come out into the streets, than an unhealthy Church of being confined and clinging to its own security”. Nothing defines the framework of his papacy better than these words.
He has not deviated from what he believes to be the role of the church in these uncertain and turbulent times. Whether he’s washing a Muslim woman’s feet or visiting migrants on a Greek island or taking selfies with young people after his weekly meetings, Francis understands that mixing copious tomes of doctrine on Vatican offices will not help spread the ultimate message. of salvation. When he refuses to condemn homosexual couples but offers prayers, the Holy Father subscribes to the teaching of Christ which emphasizes the imperfections of all mortals and encourages us to seek mercy. And that is why mercy has been at the heart of Francis’ ministry as pope.
It’s his flexible handling of an old organization with today’s techniques that Time magazine describes him as a “savvy operator, masterfully using 21st century tools to accomplish his 1st century office.” The iconoclastic article notes that Francis understands the needs of segments of the super-multicultural institution he oversees. He knows the needs of the divorced person who aspires to Holy Communion which the Church forbids, of the woman who wishes to be ordained a priest, of a lady who wants to terminate a circumstantial pregnancy, of the ambitious high clergy who seek to rise in the hierarchy of the Church and in fact of the homosexual in search of integration and acceptance of being offered the divine sacraments. These are internal squabbles that Francis has fought and continues to settle over the past nine years. It appears to have caused controversy among some traditional blocs in the Catholic Church. Yet it served no other interest than the precepts of Jesus. Like Christ our Redeemer, Francis simply asks, “Who am I to judge? When doctrinal issues conflict with current realities, thus requiring creative and compassionate application of the gospel.
Christ teaches us to avoid following a middle way in the journey with Him. The gospels record him urging the disciples to be salt of the earth or be spewed out. Francis is a rich variety of tasteful salt. He leads by example. His message is unambiguous, as is his urgency to meet the needs of those who seek his guidance and direction, whether they are located in the Amazon forests of South America, in the arid region of the North Pole, whether they whether in Mail in Sub-Saharan Africa or on the far reaches of Mongolia in the Far East, Francis is indeed a pontiff for these difficult times, doing his part for the good of our common humanity. His actions were vocal in the form of mediations in the war in South Sudan, his trip to Iraq – in the Ziggurat of Ur and his advice to leaders to create processes and not occupy spaces. Francis’ interventions in the climate change discourse are illuminating. Here is a father who cares not only for present times, but for generations to come. His call for sustainable living and a cordial relationship with nature has placed the Holy Father on the pedestal to become perhaps the most important human figure of this century.
As he begins the journey towards his tenth birthday, I can only wish Papa Francisco even greater progress as a representative of Christ on earth. “Let the perfect never be the enemy of the good.”