Ten years ago today, on March 13, 2013, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was elected as the 266th bishop of Rome, taking the name Pope Francis. From the moment he walked out onto the loggia, this pope has captured the world’s attention with his humility, simplicity, and warmth. Those who have welcomed the message of Pope Francis have taken up his challenge to embrace the values of mercy, continual conversion, and openness.
Now we mark the first ten years of his landmark pontificate, one that has dramatically reoriented the Church, which has given hope to many but has led others to anger and despair. Like his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis has truly given the Church a wake-up call, reminding us that the life of a Christian is not meant to be content or comfortable with the way things are. His decisions and teachings have driven some Catholics of the old guard to resist what they see as a disastrous course taken by the pope. Regardless of how one feels about him, no one can deny that Pope Francis has left an indelible mark on the Church and the world.
In those early years of Francis’s papacy, he continually reminded us of the mercy of God. He has repeatedly called on Catholics and people of all faiths to show compassion and forgiveness, especially toward the most vulnerable and marginalized members of society. His papacy has been marked by gestures of mercy — his visits to prisons and hospitals, his outreach to refugees and migrants, and his insistence on the Church’s role in combating poverty and inequality. Pope Francis has shown us that mercy is not a soft or sentimental concept, but rather a powerful force that can transform lives and communities. He has called on us to return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and he has reminded priests to be kind and compassionate confessors because the sacrament is an encounter with the love of God.
Another key theme of Pope Francis’ papacy has been the idea of ongoing conversion. He has reminded us that we must never stop growing and changing in our relationship with God, and that this process of conversion is a lifelong journey. This message has been especially important in the context of the Church’s ongoing efforts to deal with the scandals of sexual abuse and cover-up. Pope Francis has challenged all Catholics to confront the reality of these crimes and to work together to create a Church that is more transparent, accountable, and responsive to the needs of survivors. He has shown us that true conversion requires both humility and courage as we face the truth about ourselves and our institutions. Sadly, there have been harmful decisions made and there is a long way to go, but Francis has resolved to press on to address this deep and festering wound in the Church.
Finally, Pope Francis has been a champion of openness, both within the Church and in the wider world. He has called for a more inclusive and participatory church, where all members are valued and heard. He has also encouraged dialogue and cooperation among people of different faiths, cultures and backgrounds, recognizing that we all share a common humanity and a responsibility to care for our common home. Pope Francis’ message of openness is especially relevant in a time of growing polarization and division, reminding us that we are all part of the same human family and that we must work together to create a better world for future generations.
That said, this transformative pontificate has not been without its challenges, especially from within the Church, especially from US bishops and the Catholic media.
Despite his popularity among Catholics worldwide, Pope Francis has faced criticism and opposition from some conservative factions within the Church, particularly in the United States. Some US bishops have openly questioned or criticized his teachings on issues such as climate change, immigration, the death penalty, and economic justice. Some have even refused to implement his reforms or initiatives in their dioceses, such as his teaching on marriage and the family, Amoris Laetitia, or his decision to restrict the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass. The Catholic media, especially in the United States, has been strongly critical of the Pope, accusing him of being too liberal, too political, or even heretical.
This opposition to Pope Francis’ papacy reflects a larger divide within the Catholic Church, between those who embrace his message of mercy, ongoing conversion, and openness, and those who see his approach as a departure from traditional Catholic teachings or values. Despite these tensions and disagreements, however, Pope Francis has remained steadfast in his mission to reform the Church and promote a more compassionate, inclusive, and socially engaged vision of Catholicism.
In response to his critics, Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of dialogue and discernment within the Church, calling on all Catholics to engage in respectful and constructive conversations about the challenges facing the Church and the world. He has also encouraged Catholics to resist the temptations of factionalism and polarization and instead focus on the essential task of evangelization and service to others. His vision of synodality is of a Church that listens and in which everyone is included and heard.
Pope Francis’s pontificate has been a time of great hope and great challenge for the Catholic Church. His message has inspired millions of people around the world, while also sparking controversy and disagreement within the Church itself. As we look to the future, may we all continue to be open to the transformative power of Pope Francis’s message, and may we all work together to build a Church and a world that reflect the values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As we look to the second decade of this pontificate, may we continue to be inspired by the example of Pope Francis, and may we all strive to be agents of mercy, conversion and openness in our own lives and in our world.