Happy Birthday, Pope Francis!
Today Pope Francis celebrates his 82nd birthday. Many wishes reach him from all over the world… including from us!
There are many ways to define a Pope, according to his magisterium. Such definitions consist of words and actions that have the flavor of history, even when they are not understandable to some. This was the case for the Popes of the past, and so it is for Pope Francis too. He is placed daily under a magnifying glass for every step he takes … or for every year he completes: today he celebrates his 82nd birthday, and many people will send him wishes. We want to be among them, but with our style, with our magnifying glass, the glass of fraternity.
Francesco Antonio Grana is a young Italian journalist, Vatican correspondent of the daily newspaper “Il Fatto Quotidiano”, but not only. He is also a writer of essays. He has just published a book that contains an analysis of the almost six years of Francis’ pontificate: “Predicate il Vangelo. La riforma della Curia romana di Papa Francesco” (Preach the Gospel! The reform of the Roman Curia of Pope Francis), Elledici. Grana began when he was very young to love Peter who is behind every Pope, and to describe, as he writes, lights and shadows of a mystery that has lasted for two thousand years. From John Paul II, under whose pontificate he was born, to Pope Francis, whose name he shares.
Do we exaggerate if we say that Francis is the Pope of fraternity?
«If you go back to the evening of his election, on March 13, 2013 you immediately understand that there is no exaggeration. From that balcony overlooking St. Peter Square, after a moment of great difficulty for the Church, the new Pope proposed to make a journey together, the Bishop and his people. He bowed to ask for a prayer of the faithful on him. He immediately gave a direction, which is now confirmed more and more, for a Church willing to journey together, to give the world – because the Church is part of the world – one more chance to improve».
What are the actions of the Pope that have confirmed all this?
«There are two levels for reflection: the first is geopolitical. The US embassy in Cuba and the Cuba embassy in the US have reopened, thus favoring diplomatic peace after many years of chilliness. They decided to undersign such reopening before Cardinal Parolin, the Secretary of State of Pope Francis, to emphasize how much the Church, and the Pope personally, had done to take such step. Even the then US Secretary of State John Kerry, while opening the embassy, publicly thanked the Pope. We have in mind also the meeting with the Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill, after 1000 years of division. We could continue with his visit to Egypt in 2017 and the forthcoming visit to the United Arab Emirates in February 2019, aimed at generating fraternity with the Muslim world. Let us not forget about the Jewish world and the embrace with a rabbi and an imam in front of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Not to mention all the hidden, underground but very important work that papal diplomacy carries on in the world to foster dialogue and resolve conflict».
Let us move on to the second level…
«It is the most interesting one, that of daily gestures of fraternity, especially towards those who suffer. I am thinking of the ‘Fridays of Mercy’ in which Francis met ex-priests who got married, poor people, marginalized people, dying persons, prisoners, people with psychiatric problems… all gestures that indicate at the high level and at the daily level, a sign of fraternity and union. Which is the daily life of Pope Francis, his truest humanity».
What are the texts of the magisterium of Francis where all this is more visible, as a method he suggests for the Church and the world?
«Everything we said is condensed in the messages for the World Day of Peace which is celebrated on January 1st of every year and, very soon, we will have the opportunity to talk about it. Then we have Evangelii gaudium, which is, as it were, the door, the lighthouse of the path of fraternity. The contributions pronounced during the Synods, but also the Synod itself as an instrument, with its recent reform, are a sign of a journey towards a more fraternal Church, towards a more fraternal world. We must say, at the same time, that for Francesco not only the official documents are important. Certainly, it is a magisterium in which documents are important, as we should expect, but we must underline the centrality of his gestures, his works, and his reforms, which are a sign of an increasingly urgent fraternity».
You mentioned about the Synod, whose literal meaning is “journeying together,” a medicine for the many wounds that the Church is experiencing and the Pope is dealing with.
«Fraternity is the fruit but also the instrument of this journeying together. If we consider only this last year, 2018, we can say it was perhaps the most difficult of these (almost) six years of pontificate. It opened with the visit to Chile, very delicate for the emergence of shocking scandals, and with the inability of the bishops to manage the situations of abuse that, with a guilty feeling, affected the clergy. As we know the story led to the resignation en masse of the Chilean bishops; many have already been dismissed, some are awaiting trial. Then it was the turn of the scandals in the US Church, in Pennsylvania, and the continuous emergence of divisions and inconsistencies with respect to the Gospel that certainly caused suffering to the Pope. On August 20, however, Francis sent to all the faithful a letter that showed a very innovative style, because he did not reduce the subject to the usual clichés. He made a diagnosis and prescribed a precious medicine for the Church, asking to fight clericalism and inviting all the presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences of the world to Rome to discuss the topic. The Pope does not dispense solutions from above but he shows a listening attitude, he makes an effort to figure out solutions and problems through dialogue».
How can the people, made up of faithful and individuals of good will, help Pope Francis to implement this model in everyday life?
«By not discarding anyone, starting with your own family, but including the next-door neighbors, the people in your neighborhood, etc. In his homilies at Santa Marta, even in this Christmas season, the Pope invited us so many times to pull down the barriers, to overcome the diffidence, the difficulties, the misunderstandings, to put ourselves in the other’s shoes and try to help them. What Francis demands is a leap in quality, being aware that if there is no proximity, if there is no fraternity, if there is no tenderness, if there is nothing of all this it will be difficult to find structural solutions to today’s problems. I think that to make our best wishes to the Pope, it would be enough to do this to build the Church and the world that he himself dreams of.».