Today marks seven years since the election of Pope Francis to the papacy. With all of Italy essentially on lockdown due to the pandemic, with public Masses cancelled and St. Peter’s square closed, the unprecedented and almost surreal situation of sickness, death, fear, and social isolation has in many ways overshadowed (with good reason) the significance of today’s anniversary.
I didn’t have a lengthy piece planned for today, but in this late post, I would like to offer two superb pieces for your reading and reflection, as well as my own thoughts about the Holy Father on this day.
The first piece is an interview of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the new Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, by Alessandro Gisotti. You should really read the whole thing (it’s not long) but I wanted to highlight one quote from Cardinal Tagle because it articulates the missionary vision of Pope Francis, something that inspires me every day on a personal level (emphasis mine):
It is true that the “Church which goes forth” according to Pope Francis is a Church that goes to men and women and the concrete situations of the world in order to bring the Gospel in word and deed. Mission or evangelization is the reason for the Church´s existence.
But we should not forget that Pope Francis also stresses the essential fact that mission must originate from a profound encounter with Jesus, from a faith experience and conviction that Jesus loves and saves us, from a heart filled with the joy that only the Gospel could bring, from a heart that is moved by the Holy Spirit to share with others, so that our joy and theirs may be complete (see 1 John 1:4). Without Jesus and the Holy Spirit, mission is not a going forth that comes from the Father. It becomes a human project, a social or civic program, which may be good per se, but may not be Christian or ecclesial mission in the true meaning of the word ‘mission.’ True Christian mission requires true witnesses. We need authentic missioners, not just workers. We hope that we could keep and promote this orientation in the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
I’ve mentioned before on this site and elsewhere that my decision to name this site “Where Peter Is” was not just a reference to the famous statement by St. Ambrose, “Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia, et ibi ecclesia vita eternal” (Where Peter is, there is the Church, where the Church is, there is eternal life). For those who are unaware, the name of this site was inspired in large part by Cardinal Tagle’s words of farewell to Pope Francis during the pope’s apostolic visit to the Philippines in 2015:
You arrived in the Philippines 3 days ago. Tomorrow, you will go. Every Filipino wants to go with you. Don’t be afraid. Every Filipino wants to go with you – not to Rome – but to the peripheries.
We want to go with you to the shanties, to the prison cells, to hospitals, to the world of politics, finance, arts, the sciences, culture, education, and social communication. We will go to those worlds with you to bring the light of Christ.
Jesus is the center of your pastoral visit and the cornerstone of the visit. We will go, Holy Father, with you where the light of Jesus is needed.
This notion–that we will follow Pope Francis to the peripheries–with a missionary spirit, spreading the Gospel and the Light of Christ, is our inspiration. Since Francis, from the See of Peter, is out in the peripheries–attending to those who are on the margins, in need of love and healing and justice and mercy–that is where the Church is, and that is where we too must go.
The second reflection is by Andrea Tornielli, speaking about a great gift to the Church (especially those who are unable to attend Mass in person): that Pope Francis’s daily Mass in the Casa Santa Marta can now be seen online via streaming video. After seven years and after reading so much about these Masses, we may now join our prayers with the pope every day, which is an extraordinary development. Tornielli writes,
A daily appointment, which has become a source of comfort to the many people who, over the past seven years, have searched for and read the synthesis of the Pope’s Casa Santa Marta homily, offered by Vatican Media. Now, this simple and meaningful accompaniment by the Pope has become even more comforting and important, as he celebrates Mass in the chapel of his residence and offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice for the suffering and the sick, for their relatives, for doctors, nurses, volunteers, the lonely and the elderly, for prisoners and authorities.
One problem in recent years is that out-of-context quotes from the summaries of these Masses have led to confusion and even vicious attacks on Pope Francis. In some ways, this is understandable. When charged with writing 1-2 paragraph summary of a homily, certainly the most colorful or provocative lines will be reported. Unfortunately, this type of reporting has detracted from Francis’s core messages of conversion, repentance, forgiveness, and mercy. Going forward (I hope indefinitely), the faithful will be able to hear his words in their full context.
Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to and great love for our Holy Father. He is not getting any younger, and I urge all of you to pray for his health and his ability to continue to lead the Church as he grows in holiness. He has helped me deepen my love for Christ and my Catholic faith, and I hope God grants him many more years.
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.