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Pope Francis marks 10th anniversary in Chair of Peter

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Theresa Ardler, a lecturer in Aboriginal Spirituality at ACU, meets Pope Francis last week. She presented him with a personal copy of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Chiara Porro, Australia’s Ambassador to the Vatican, is centre of photo, and Jacqui Remond from ACU in the background. Photo: Vatican Media
Theresa Ardler, artist and academic, meets Pope Francis. She presented him with a personal copy of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Chiara Porro, Australia’s Ambassador to the Vatican, is centre of photo, and Jacqui Remond from ACU in the background. Photo: Vatican Media

It was one of the most memorable moments in the recent history of the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world by becoming the first pope in 600 years to resign from office on 28 February 2013.

Less than a fortnight later, 115 cardinals from around the world met in the Sistine chapel to elect a successor to St Peter.

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On the fifth ballot on 13 March 2013, the cardinals went to the ends of the earth to elect a successor who would become the first pope outside Europe.

“Ten years later, Pope Francis’ vision of a church which is poor and for the poor has taken shape not only through his homilies … but through practical gestures.”

Relatively unknown outside South America, then-76-year-old Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio SJ, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, took the name Francis, from St Francis of Assisi.

He had drawn inspiration from “Il Poverello”, as St Francis is called, as a man of poverty, of peace and love and a protector of creation.

Ten years later, Pope Francis’ vision of a church which is poor and for the poor has taken shape not only through his homilies, speeches and encyclicals, but through practical gestures.

From abandoning the papal palace to live in a hostel, washing the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday, or building showers for the homeless in Rome, the Holy Father’s dynamism continues to surprise.

Pope Francis touches the death wall at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, in this 29 July 2016, file photo. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

The church marks a decade of Pope Francis this week. The Catholic Weekly spoke with Australian Catholics who have been inspired by the vision of his pontificate.

Rev Professor Gerard Kelly from the Catholic Institute of Sydney believes Pope Francis has fully embraced the message of Matthew’s Gospel where we learn about what Jesus’ ministry to the marginalised meant in practical terms.

“In Matthew 25, we hear the powerful words ‘When I was hungry, you fed me, when I was sick, you visited me, when I was naked, you clothed me’,” Professor Kelly said.

“What Pope Francis is trying to do is recover the centrality of that message which is so strong in the New Testament and he has indeed allowed that to shape the way he’s engaged in ministry.”

“One area where Pope Francis’ call for mercy has been consistently strong across the past decade has been his advocacy for refugees and asylum seekers …”

Fr Peter Kwak, parish priest of Regina Coeli in Beverly Hills in Sydney’s south-west, agrees and believes one of Pope Francis’ greatest legacies will be the way in which he has linked mercy with discipleship.

“He has helped Christians realise that mercy is the key by which we can be evangelised and in so doing, through mercy, we can in turn evangelise others.”

One area where Pope Francis’ call for mercy has been consistently strong across the past decade has been his advocacy for refugees and asylum seekers, especially for people displaced by war.

The country director for the Jesuit Refugee Service, Ms Tamara Domicelj, said Pope Francis has been an exceptional and consistent teacher and mobiliser who role models a great empathy towards refugees fleeing traumatic circumstances wherever they may be.

Pope Francis attends a session at the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican. Photo: CNS photo/Vatican Media
Pope Francis attends a session at the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican. Photo: CNS photo/Vatican Media

“When everything was unfolding so terribly in Myanmar, he said: ‘I too kneel on the streets of Myanmar and say, ‘Stop the violence’. I too extend my arms and say ‘Let dialogue prevail’.

“Pope Francis travels very consistently to be there with people suffering devastating trauma and hardship, to offer comfort, denounce indifference and its consequences, to issue those clarion calls for human solidarity and shared responsibility”.

Professor Kelly said throughout his papacy, the Argentinian pontiff has sought to position the church firmly in the modern world, from his landmark encyclical on care for creation, Laudato Si through to his reflections on the need to support each other through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in Fratelli Tutti.

“He has truly opened the doors of the church to the wider world and been able to reach out well to other faiths and traditions, especially to other Christian churches and to the Muslim community,” he said.

“i believe what he’s trying to do is re-set vatican II. HE’S PICKING UP THE BEST ASPECTS OF VATICAN ii and re-visiting them”.

“That was reflected well in his peace pilgrimage to South Sudan which he undertook alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and the moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields,” he said.

Another great admirer of Pope Francis, Sister Jo Brady rsj, said she has drawn great inspiration from the Pope’s combination of a humble lifestyle and great vision for a missionary church.

“Pope Francis has embraced a vision for a church that’s seen out on the streets, amongst the people with pastors close to the needs of their flock, having the smell of the sheep,” she said.

“I believe what he’s trying to do is re-set Vatican II. He’s picking up the best aspects of Vatican II and re-visiting them, especially around the participation of the laity that by virtue of their baptism, that they are called to an important role within the church.”

As a member of the Plenary Council and Synod of Bishops working group in the Archdiocese of Sydney, Sr Jo said she has seen how Pope Francis’ vision for a more synodal church has been put into concrete practice, especially through his appointment of more lay men and women to important governance roles in the life of the church.

Pope Francis kisses an infant as he makes his way to Copacabana beach for the World Youth Day Way of the Cross service in Rio de Janeiro on 26 July, 2013. Photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano

“He has for example appointed the very talented French woman, Sr Nathalie Becquart as Consultor to the Synod of Bishops and she brings great insights to that role having previously worked in industry and then in a variety of evangelisation roles in the church”, she added.

Social Justice Facilitator with the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Justice and Peace Office, Mr Michael Walker believes one of Pope Francis’ greatest strengths lies in the authentic way in which he lives out what he preaches, which has endeared him to many people across broader society.

“He has for example spoken at length on the need for strong pastoral care to migrants and refugees and he has put this into practice though by welcoming refugee families from Syria to live in the Vatican,” Mr Walker explained.

“There’s also a strong humanism to all his teachings, for example in Laudato Si, where he has called on Catholics to play their part in caring for creation, but not simply in purely environmental terms, but out of concern for solidarity amongst the world’s peoples”.

Fr Peter Kwak believes this is what makes Pope Francis’ ministry so distinctive.

“he’s building bridges with people who might not identify as devout catholics… and in so doing, he’s helping them appreciate the spiritual richness of our faith””

“He’s building bridges with people who might not identify as devout Catholics, but are interested in caring for the environment, for example, and in so doing, he’s helping them appreciate the spiritual richness of our faith”.

The Jesuit Refugee Service’s Tamara Domicelj believes Pope Francis has had an enormous impact on raising global consciousness around the need to treat everyone with dignity and will leave an enduring legacy for future popes.

“I think he has been so purposeful, so strategic, so consistent and true in all his messages on refugees that there’s no doubt in my mind that there will be a very long-lasting impact,” she said.

“He has constantly reminded us that there is no place for indifference or for punishment and instead there is an overwhelming urgency to act in human solidarity and generosity in the face of appallingly difficult circumstances.”

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