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Q and A with Fr Flader: 10 years with Pope Francis

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Pope Francis uses holy water to bless the coffin of Australian Cardinal George Pell during his funeral in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Jan. 14, 2023. Cardinal Pell, former prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, died Jan. 10 in Rome at the age of 81. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Dear Father, Pope Francis has now been Pope for ten years and I hear a lot of criticism of him, some of which I share. How should we Catholics who want to be faithful look on this Pope?

First, we should remember that Pope Francis is the pope God has given to the church at this time. The cardinals elected him after praying to the Holy Spirit in Mass before they entered the conclave, so we can be sure that God guided them to choose this pope.

The church is not a merely human institution whose head is chosen in an election after much campaigning and posturing.

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It is a divine institution whose head is Jesus Christ and whose members are the saints in heaven, the souls in purgatory and the faithful here on earth.

The church is the mystical body of Christ whose soul, as it were, is the Holy Spirit. It was God himself who gave us Pope Francis.

The pope is the head of this great family, the church, with 1.3 billion members. He is our father, the Holy Father.

No matter how much we may disagree with some of the things our father has done, we must always respect him and love him. And not join in the criticism ourselves.

As you say, there has been much criticism of Pope Francis. Some people have only bad things to say about him and that can colour the minds of Catholics to see only the negative and overlook the positive. But there is so much good that this Pope has done.

Pope Francis hears confession from a teenager in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Youth from around the world flocked to Rome in April for a special Year of Mercy event for teens aged 13-16. Photo: Angelo Carconi, EPA

From the beginning of his Pontificate, he has shown the world the face of Jesus Christ: the face of kindness and mercy, of concern for the homeless, the marginalised, the refugees, the sick, the imprisoned.

He has gone out of his way to visit these people, to speak with them, and draw the attention of the world to their plight.

He has adopted a simple lifestyle, doing away with anything that could show attachment to material things.

Soon after his election he went personally to pay the bill for the accommodation where he had been staying before the conclave.

Even the car in which he rides in visits to other countries is often a small, inexpensive one.  It is a lesson of detachment that the world needs to see and embrace, naturally in keeping with the individual circumstances of each person.

Pope Francis is known for his smile, his kindness, his ability to radiate joy. So much is this a feature of his way of being that he has included the word joy in the title of many of his documents.

His major documents have contained lessons we should all take on board. To mention but a few, already in his first year as Pope he released the Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, calling the Church to a renewed effort of evangelisation.

Pope Francis kisses the foot of a refugee during Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Center for Asylum Seekers in Castelnuovo di Porto, north of Rome on 24 March. Photo: CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano

His Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of Love (2016) is a rich document on marriage, family and love. Another Apostolic Exhortation, Rejoice and be Glad (2018), on the call to holiness in today’s world, shows how all can be saints in their ordinary life.

Christ is Alive! is a beautiful letter to the youth of the church, calling them to fulfil their important mission in the world. And Fratelli tutti (2020) is a call to brotherhood and harmony in a fractured world. Would that all Catholics read these documents.

For those who question the orthodoxy of some of the Pope’s teachings, and even call him a heretic, we should not forget that Pope Francis has spoken and warned repeatedly about the insidious activity of the devil.

He erected a statue of St Michael, Archangel, in the Vatican gardens and he entrusted the church to his powerful care. Heretics don’t talk about the devil. They don’t believe in him.

Pope Francis has great devotion to Our Lady and St Joseph. He chose the feast of St Joseph for the inauguration of his pontificate, and he gave the church a year of St Joseph in 2021.

He encourages everyone to say the rosary. Before each trip overseas he goes to the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome to entrust the trip to Mary, and on returning he goes there again to thank Our Lady for the fruits of the trip. Our Lady and St Joseph are surely looking after him.

What we should always do is pray very much for the Pope, no matter what we may think of him. He is our spiritual father.

And since Pope Francis is 86 years of age and confined to a wheelchair, we don’t know how long he will be with us, so we should also pray for his successor, whoever he may be.

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