Postcolonialism, Social Sin, and Pope Thoughts

Last night I was in class discussing postcolonialism and liberation theology in my methods course while the Cardinals in Rome were sleeping.  Today as they were apparently selecting the man we now know as Pope Francis to be the leader of our global Church, I was in a classroom discussing racism and social sin.  We watched the new Pope emerge on the balcony of St. Peter's during our break, and we all prayed with him and with the entire world who was watching.

Given my personal context and the theological and social issues I am grappling with this semester, I have some interesting thoughts, first impressions, and hopes for this new era of our Roman Catholic faith which he will usher in with his leadership.

  1. I just read a quote from then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to his brother Latin American Bishops during a 2007 conference:

    "We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least. The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers."

    No matter what, for the first time or at least the first in a  long time, our designated human leader of our global church has lived in a reality outside of Western Europe.  He has confronted the reality of poverty and the impacts of colonialization and institutional racism and named it as social sin.  There are mixed reports on how he integrated and acted upon this experience.  One the one hand, apparently when provincial of the Jesuits during the civil war he did not allow his brothers to move to base communities but rather required them to stay in parishes.  On the other hand, he apparently lives very simply and rejects many of the trappings of clericalism and privilege.  We can debate what this means, but I find it very significant and hopeful that the man chosen to be our spiritual leader has at the very least had to grapple with these realities in his own life and in his service of God and the church.
  2. The name.  Francis.  My first though of course was St. Francis of Assisi and his call to "rebuild my church."  Given that he is a Jesuit, of course, my second thought was St. Francis Xavier, the missionary and evangelizer to Asia.  My next thought was remembering how important both of those figures were to the founder of my own religious community, Margaret Anna Cusack, whose religious name was Mother Francis Clare and who promised to name the first convent of her religious community after St. Francis Xavier.  Both/and.  Either/or.  Whether it is one or  both or some other Francis, there is a significance to the name.  He is the 266th man to hold that office and the first to choose this name. This is a name with resonance beyond the boundaries of our church.  I think of the interfaith prayer gatherings in Assisi.  The statues of Francis that adorn gardens.  The connection to creation.  The love of peace in the church and in society.  Names are powerful, and names connote memories, connections, hopes and dreams, as this paragraph attests.  No doubt this fact was not lost on him as he chose his name.
  3. The blessing.  As I said, our class break this afternoon coincided with his appearance on the balcony, so I was able to hear his first words as Pope Francis.  I was very touched that his first words were one of relationship.  Speaking to those gathered in the square and around radios, tvs, and computer screens across the globe, his first words were not a proclamation or a pre-planned script, but rather a favor.  He asked us to bless him before he blessed us.  This strikes me as significant and hopeful.
And so, I pray for Pope Francis.  I pray for all the men and women of our church and the global community.  That together we may act justly, seek peace, and grow together in love as God intended.

Pope Francis, then Cardinal Archbishop, on his way
to work at the Chancery via public transportation.


Garpu said...

I don't think all the people criticizing him already got just how significant that request for our prayers was. I don't remember a Pope ever doing that--not the last 3, although I barely remember JPI.

Unknown said...

Excellent thoughts Susan. I am both hopeful as well as weary. The details that you pointed out are those that give me hope that the institutional church can earn back some credibility as the moral authority that it strives to be.
As always, I am weary of all institutions and the governing structures.
For now, I will put my energy and anticipation into what the best possible good can be.