Friday, March 14, 2014

An article on Pope Francis

Francis I, II and Francis III
-Nithiya ofm.cap (nithiyas@gmail.com)
When Cardinal Borgoglio from Argentina was elected Pope on 13 March, 2013, he chose the name Francis. People in St. Peter’s square in Vatican began to show banners with the new pope’s name as Francis I. But the officials in Vatican clarified that he is Just Francis and not Francis I, until another Pope later takes the name Francis. For us, Franciscans we already have Francis I from Assisi. For us Franciscans, the present Pope seems to be Francis II by the choice of his name and his mission. By his choice of name and his undertakings all these five months seem to remind us of Francis of Assisi in several ways. The whole life of Francis of Assisi was a response to the call of the Crucifix at St. Damiano, “Repair my church”.
During the time of Francis of Assisi, the Church has focused on the triumphalism with supreme degree of secularization of the ecclesiastic institution with explicit interest in «dominium mundi», dominion of the world. In fact, for a time, practically all of Europe, including Russia, was subjected to the Pope of Rome. Life was lived then with the greatest pomp and glory. The Church as a temporal and sacred empire contradicted everything Jesus of Nazareth wanted. Hence In 1210, filled with doubt about the future of the Church, Pope Innocence III recognized Francis of Assisi's path of voluntary poverty.
Francis of Assisi observed his society with economic division between the fast growing filthy rich feudals and merchants on the one side and the poorest, beggars and the lepers etc. who cannot enter into this competition and who were considered of no use to its fast growing economy. The Church was also known for its filthy money, power and properties.  It was a society fully engaged in war, conflicts with other cities, focused all energy with fighting, including crusades undertaken by the Church herself.
We are not unaware of our own times, and that of Francis of Rome which has been known within the Church for moral scandals and money scandals with focus on institutions and liturgical rubrics on the one side and on the other in the society at large, the ill effects of globalisation, privatisation and materialism with cut throat competition. In both these situations, the society at large has discriminated the poor and forgot them!
After the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, most of the references to the future of the church were given to the continuation of the existing ministries, Cardinal Borgoglio highlighted on special concern of those living in the periphery of society. In his inaugural message, he focused on three obligations of our times: Pro-poor, Pro-Peace and Pro-Creation. By this he made clear to the world that his choice of name is also the choice of his mission – The Franciscan Mission.
Francis of Assisi lived the antithesis of the imperial Church in 12th Century. To the ‘Gospel of power’, he offered the ‘power of the Gospel’: total relinquishment, radical poverty and extreme simplicity. He was guided by the Gospel, lived strictly, on the periphery of the cities, where the poor and the lepers lived, and in the heart of nature, living a cosmic union with all beings. He lived in the periphery amidst the forgotten ones and spoke to the centre for a life becoming of the Gospel. Without explicitly criticizing, he began a great reform, starting from below, but without breaking with Rome.
Francis brought into the church the obligation to be poor, to be with the poor and to be of the poor, in keeping with the Biblical call. The poor are around us in every form, economically, socially, psychologically, spiritually, economically, culturally. They are entitled to an effective individual and institutional response from our society, especially from every Franciscan. The worst forms of poverty are economic and structural.
Our local socio-economic and cultural situation is not different from the rest of the world or that of 12th Century Italy. This calls for another Francis, Francis III to respond to the cry of the poorest and the marginalised. Every third person in our country lives below poverty line. An average of 6000 children die every day in this country due to malnutrition. We are shocked at the way women are ill treated in our society through various types of violence against them. Most of the city based Christian educational and medical institutions seem to cater to the filthy rich and reject the poor even to enter inside for their entitlements. The church at large, especially the ones in the towns and cities is looked at with aversion due to money scandals and moral scandals. The discriminative caste system and neglect of the tribals and the exploitations against them constantly increase both in the church and in the society. 
The cry of the crucifix of St. Damiano, “Francis, repair my church which is in Shamble” is still continued looking for another Francis today. This is not an invitation to have choice to say yes or no but similar to that of Archangel Gabriel to Mother mary. He did not leave her until she said “Yes”. The call of to each one of us, Francis III is not a suggestion or proposal but a command to repair the Church.
Francis initially took up the easy way of responding, by constructing the building with bricks by involving people. This is the same temptation we have, to do some charity, to do some developmental works, to get involved in some institutions that ultimately brings in monetary benefits and end up in re-entering into the same rut, discrimination and exploitation. The call to a personal and collective radical transformation is the obligation of every Franciscan. In our own times, we come across several radicals who have taken up Francis’ way of response through radical detachment, Jesus centredness and through pitching one’s tent amidst the poor and the marginalised. Another Francis is possible and Necessary. This Francis III is you and me!
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