Pope Francis: Ten Years of Grace, God’s Mercy, Renewal and Call to Mission
Maria del Mar Muñoz-Visoso, M.T.S.| Executive Director, Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, USCCB
I had the tremendous grace of being at St. Peter’s Square on the evening of March 13, 2013, when the fumata bianca started to come out of the Sistine Chapel and the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica ringed in the election of a new successor of Peter. From the minute he came out to the balcony and asked for the prayers of the faithful so that he could receive God’s blessing on his Petrine ministry, even before he imparted his apostolic blessing upon us, we realized he was a humble shepherd that is always close to the grey that the Good Lord has entrusted to him.
It is difficult to overstate the impact that Francis’ pontificate has had in the universal Church. In ten years, he has not ceased to remind us, both by teaching and example, of the merciful face of God the Father and that the call to abide in His love is for all of us. More so, it is that love, the awareness of it, that compels us to proclaim the joy of the Gospel to all who are willing to listen and accept it as theirs; and to anyone that is looking for answers to life’s big questions, for human fraternity and for a community of missionary disciples to call home.
He knows that, while holding fast to the deposit of faith and with Christ always at the center, the Church’s must adapt its ways, methods, and structures to fulfill its mission in the world (aggiornamento), always animated by the Holy Spirit of the Lord, who blows where it wills. The “Holy and Faithful People of God” (he loves using this expression of the Second Vatican Council), that is, everyone from the Pope himself and the bishops to every baptized member, also need to be constantly reminded that the call to go and make disciples of all nations is for all of us, lay and ordained alike. That makes us co-responsible for the Church, both its upkeeping and its mission, each according to the gifts, charisms and responsibilities the Spirit has entrusted to us.
For this reason, the Synod on Synodality called forth by Pope Francis is such a gift to the Church in this day and age. As Vatican II proposed, the Church needs to return to its sources, to its roots (ressourcement), which are not only Scripture and the writings of the early Fathers of the Church, but also synodality as a modus vivendi et operandi (the way of being and operating in the world) of the Church, as these sources reveal to us, particularly in the first millennium of its existence. In many respects we are facing similar challenges today.
Synodality is the path to communion, participation, and mission. A prayerful listening of one another and a common process of discernment of the will of God will necessarily lead to an enhanced sense of co-responsibility for the action to be taken, as determined by the authority of the Church. There is no possible confusion of roles and responsibilities here or a challenge to the legitimate authority of the Church. It is just an invitation to all the baptized to take their place in the circle of communion, and to keep ever present our responsibility for building up the Church. It is a reminder to church authority that God often speaks through His people, especially the meek and humble, the little ones, the poor, the outcast and marginalized, and to turn a listening heart to them and what they have to say to the Church. It is also an invitation to pastors everywhere to love their flocks with Christ’s heart and to remember that the Good Lord has not given them a bunch of “mindless sheep” to shepherd, but an extended family of companions on the journey. And so, it is their duty as priests and pastors not only to guide and teach the flock and to provide the sacraments, but also to discern the gifts that the Holy Spirit has blessed that community with and invite them in (both the people and the gifts!)
Like the popes before him, Francis has brought with him his own ecclesiological experiences, and cultural traditions and influences, offering the rich tradition of collegiality and common discernment process of the Latin American episcopate and church as a contribution to the Universal Church.
As a pope that emerged from the global south, he also cannot ignore the common problems that affect the entire planet, and the lived experience of the churches outside of Europe. He purposefully keeps bringing those realities and experiences, hopes, needs and contributions to the consciousness of the universal Church. And we should thank the Holy Spirit and the cardinal electors for it, so that we may never forget we are members of the “Catholic Church.”
I admire how at peace Pope Francis seems with this call and the purpose of his pontificate. I also respect his determination and steadfastness despite much criticism. Pastoral conversion is not easy. And many will resist change, for their own reasons. But judging by the response to the synodal process around the world, the People of God is with Pope Francis and appreciate the opportunity and the call to fully take responsibility for their baptismal call.
I join the vast majority of the faithful in praying for him and his Petrine ministry constantly, and otherwise thank God that he is the man to guide the boat of Peter in this time and age.
Congratulations on the tenth anniversary of your election, Holy Father Pope Francis! Ad multos annos.
¡Viva el Papa Francisco!