By Noel Connolly
Recently I was in Rome and the enthusiasm for our new Pope Francis is even greater there than here. The Piazza San Pietro is packed every Sunday and people are much more hopeful.
Everyone is interested in what he might do next and much more prepared to listen to what he has to say.
I think this is because of the Pope’s obvious humanity and the respect he shows others. Gerard O’Connell, a leading journalist with Vatican Insider, told me how much he and his peers were moved by Pope Francis when at the end of his audience with the world’s journalists only days after his election said, ‘I told you I was cordially imparting my blessing.
‘Since many of you are not members of the Catholic Church, and others are not believers, I cordially give this blessing silently, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each, but in the knowledge that each of you is a child of God. May God bless you!’
And they all sat for a moment in silence just as the crowd had grown suddenly silent and prayed when the new Pope asked the faithful to pray for him on the night he was elected.
We are always much more ready to listen to people who know, respect and enjoy us and there is something enabling and freeing when the Pope shows he values and respects us. It is such a pleasant surprise.
The Pope’s humanity and simplicity is very attractive. It was the same with John XXIII. Recently I watched the video of John XXIII’s famous Speech to the Moon. He made it on the first night of the 2nd Vatican Council [11.10.1962]. Amongst other things he told the crowd gathered in the Piazza to go home and give their children a hug and to tell them that ‘it came from the Pope’.
We will all be much more effective missionaries and evangelisers if we can also show such humanity and respect.
We need a more positive attitude to the world including the secularists and humanists. There is no doubt that in recent decades the Church has been moved from ‘the centre to the margins, from majority to minority, from privilege to plurality’ and there are some secularists and humanists who would like to marginalise religion even more.
But as Fr Ron Rolheiser points out, it will not be helpful if we regard modern secular society as the enemy, anti-church, amoral and the root of all our problems. Secularity is ‘Christianity’s adolescent child’, not bad but unfinished and difficult.
Many of its values are clearly Christian and some of its excesses may be the result of our excesses. For too long the Church has tended to see the modern world as ‘pagan’ or ‘Godless’ and that has undermined our credibility even further.
We need to be more positive as well as critical to discover how God is experienced in this culture and how to live lives that make Gospel sense in a secular world.
There is something tragic and self-defeatist about a fight between a parent and a child over power.
And this is where I believe Pope Francis has made a critical missionary breakthrough.
He does not seem as concerned about his or even the Church’s power but ‘about the poorest, the weakest and the least important’.
His mission is not to regain the Church’s power but to serve the poorest and most marginalised. This seems to be a much more disarming, respectful and yet prophetic approach to the modern world and to mission.
Fr Noel Connolly is a Columban missionary priest. He is a member of the Columban Mission Institute, Strathfield, in Sydney, and of the Broken Bay Institute. He also lectures in mission at the Catholic Institute of Sydney.
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