Pope Francis, a Pope Unlike the Rest

Avant de devenir Pape, le Cardinal Bergoglio emprentait les transports publics comme tout le monde. Photo extraite de sa page Facebook

Before becoming Pope, Cardinal Bergoglio used to take public transportation just like everyone else. Photo from his Facebook page – Public Domain

[Most links are to articles in French.]

It's been a year since Giorgio Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, became the leader of the Roman Catholic Church and its 1.2 billion followers as Pope Francis. Until his election, despite the importance of Saint Francis of Assisi to the Catholic Church, no pope had yet chosen to take the papal name of a saint who is iconic for standing for peace and the poor.

With vocal stances on sensitive issues like war, homosexuality and economic inequities, Francis’ renewed vigor has attracted attention all over the world, not just because he is the world's first ever Latin American Pope. In the slums of Buenos Aires, where Bergoglio worked for many years, people already knew to expect his unorthodox ways. But to most of the world's catholics, Francis’ personality has been something of a surprise.

Pope Francis has made an impression on war-ravaged Congo where 50% of the population is Catholic. In an article published on the website adiac-congo.com, titled “Pope Francis: One Year with a Surprising Pontiff,” Lucien Mpama, of Kinshasa, in the DRC, wrote:

Pas de mules rouges de pape au pied mais des souliers à bouts arrondis, comme tout curé de campagne – surtout jésuite. Pas de luxueuses voitures de fonction, des limousines coûteuses entretenues à coups de millions mais une Ford Mondeo, presque ordinaire, en tout cas de celles que l’on croise à chaque coin de rue même en Afrique (héritage de son prédécesseur ; son secrétaire à lui circulant dans et hors du Vatican à vélo). Pas d’aide de camp portant sacoche et tout le nécessaire d’un chef d’État. Pas d’appartements pontificaux (de 500 m2) mais un logement spartiate dans la Maison Sainte Marthe, la maison des cardinaux de passage au Vatican, construite par Jean-Paul II.

[There were] only slippers with rounded soles for this pope's feet, just like the same ordinary slippers worn by all countryside clerics. No luxurious, expensive cars, but rather an ordinary Ford Mondeo, just like any car you would pass on any street corner, even in Africa. His predecessor's secretary travelled within and outside the Vatican by bicycle. Nor does an army of bag carriers trail him, like you see with the average head of state. Furthermore, there are no grand 500-square-meter apartments for this pope. Instead, it's spartan lodgings in St. Martha's hostel, the resting place Jean-Paul II constructed for cardinals passing through to the Vatican.

Writing on the website Triologies run by an orthodox theologian, Jean-Thierry Verhest, a Brussels-based consultant in intercultural relations, argued that the Catholic Church appears to have rediscovered the liberation theology of the 1970s. The liberation theology doctrine originated in Latin America, later developing in other parts of the world, notably in South Africa, the Philippines, and in South Korea:   

Le monde actuel n’est donc pas plus civilisé, disent-ils, que quand les hommes réglaient leurs différends à coups de poings et de gourdins. Il est, au contraire, plus dangereux et plus cruel. La capitalisme, particulièrement sauvage dans les pays du Sud, en est la cause. Ils estiment que les masses du “tiers-monde” ont à recouvrer la dignité humaine que le Créateur leur a donnée.

The modern world is, in fact, not more civilized, as they say, than it was when men resolved their differences through combat. On the contrary, the world is even more dangerous and cruel than it was before. Capitalism is the cause of this, with its particularly devastating effects in the countries of the Southern hemisphere. The populations of the Third World are rediscovering the human dignity bestowed upon them by the Creator.

The Vatican does not hide its mistrust of liberation theology, which critics call “Christianized Marxism.” The religious website croire.com (which translates to “believe.com” in English) summarizes Catholicism's two stances on liberation theology

La Congrégation pour la doctrine de la foi s'est prononcée à deux reprises sur la théologie de la libération. La première instruction, le 6 août 1984, met en garde contre les déviations dues à l'introduction d'éléments du marxisme et critique les lectures rationalisantes de la Bible qui réduisent l'histoire du Christ à celle d'un libérateur social et politique. La seconde instruction, le 22 mars 1986 est plus favorable et intègre cette théologie au magistère romain de l'Église. La théologie de la libération est relue de manière positive en y introduisant la dimension spirituelle d'une théologie de la liberté.

The first order of August 6, 1984, warns against deviations [from classical theology] encouraged by Marxist elements and criticizes rationalist readings of the Bible that reduce the story of Christ to a tale of a social and political liberator. (2) The second order, on March 22, 1986, is more favorable and integrates liberation theology with that of the Magisterium. In this second order, liberation theology is read in a positive manner; as introducing a spiritual dimension through a theology based on freedom.

Not everyone welcomed Bergoglio's election, however. His role during Argentina's military dictatorships, for instance, concerned some people. It wasn't long before entering the Vatican that Francis answered his critics by signaling his views on human rights and the military's role in society. One of the first guests Francis welcomed to the Vatican was  the Dominican Gustavo Gutierrez, one of the world's most prominent liberation theology proponents. 

Indeed, Pope Francis has been full of surprises. In an interview published in several newspapers, Francis spoke plainly about homosexuality, shunning language that has made sexual orientation controversial for Catholics in the past. 

In his message, titled “Fraternity, the Foundation and Pathway to Peace” (which every Catholic church across the planet read on World Peace Day, on January 1, 2014), the pope called for more fraternity between people and for solidarity on the part of governments.

Francis has also taken several steps to reform the Catholic Church. In February earlier this year, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin explained the how the Vatican has begun reorganizing the Curia and the Church's finances. 

On the website oeildafrique.com, for instance, blogger “Bona” from the Congo welcomed the nomination of Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo:

L’archevêque de Kinshasa, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo fait désormais parti des huit cardinaux qui aideront le pape de l’église catholique dans le travail de la réforme de la curie romaine. Le Pape François l’a annoncé ce samedi 13 avril.

La curie romaine, le gouvernement du Vatican, est traité de pléthorique. Elle est composée d’une secrétairerie d’Etat, de neuf congrégations romaines, de trois tribunaux, de douze conseillers pontificaux, mais aussi de six commissions pontificales et d’autant d’instituts en tous genres. Le Vatican emploie près de 3 000 personnes.

The archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, will be part of the eight cardinals assisting the Pope of the Catholic Church in his project to reform the Roman Curia, Pope Francis announced on Saturday 13 April. 

The Roman Curia, the Vatican's government, is overstaffed. It consists of a a Secretary of State, of nine Roman congregations, three tribunals, twelve pontifical advisors, as well as six pontifical commissions and as many institutions of all genres. 

In relation to the pedophilia scandals striking at the heart of the Church, the website afriqueredaction.com reported the unequivocal remarks Pope Francis recently made before the International Catholic Child Bureau. 

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