Friday, March 15, 2013

Uncle Frank, the Pope

I want to call Pope Francis “Uncle Frank.”

I never had an uncle Frank. There were John, Leonard, Ed, Bill, George, Vinnie (the Italian from Brooklyn), Howard, but no Frank.

Some Argentinians, it seems, are calling him Papa Pancho, Pancho being a nickname for Francisco.

I don’t think there’s anything irreverent about calling him Papa Pancho or Uncle Frank. He seems very much down to earth, like a loving uncle.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was willing to ride subways, cook his own meals, and wash the feet of pregnant women and ex-drug addicts.

He appeared in a simple white cassock, on St. Peter’s balcony, and wore his own pectoral cross, instead of a jeweled Cross. The image on the cross is the good shepherd.

He already has already eschewed a limousine several times – taking the bus with the bishops to and from the Vatican.

He tried to not disturb the visit of pilgrims to the Saint Mary Major Basilica when he visited – but was over-ruled. They locked everyone else out.

This leads me to see him as a follower of Christ who seeks to live simply, in the style of the Lord.

I do have some questions.

Like most church leaders in Argentina during the state terrorism of the 1970s and 1980s, he did not speak out forcefully. Whether he could have done more is another question.

He seems to have been critical of liberation theology. Though he does has a great heart for the poor, does his love go beyond acts of charity and strong statements against the austerity that affect the poor? Will he stand up forcibly to world powers that oppress the poor?

But he’s only been pope a few days and seems to be shaking up things – at this stylistically. But maybe this is the most important way to initiate change.

I think he will face major challenges, perhaps most of all from those who seek to maintain a church of power, allied with political and economic elites. Pope Francis seems more attuned to a Church of the Poor.

To my surprise, the radical liberation theology Leonardo Boff (a former Franciscan priest) has written quite favorably about him. (Rebel Girl has translated his article here.)

Francis isn't a name; it's a plan for a Church that is poor, simple, gospel-centered, and devoid of all power. It's a Church that walks the way together with the least and last… It's an ecological Church that calls all beings those sweet words "brothers and sisters". Francis was obedient to the Church and the popes and at the same time he followed his own path with the gospel of poverty in hand. So theologian Joseph Ratzinger wrote: "Francis' 'no' to this imperial type of Church couldn't be more radical; it's what we could call a prophetic protest."… Francis doesn't talk; he simply inaugurates something new.

I think Pope Francis has in mind a church outside the palaces and symbols of power…. Three highly symbolic points stand out in his inaugural address.

First: He said that he wants to "preside with charity”… The Pope should not preside as an absolute monarch, clothed in sacred power… According to Jesus, he should preside in love and strengthen the faith of the brothers and sisters.

Second: He gave a central place to the People of God…

Finally, he avoided all spectacle in the figure of Pope. He didn't extend both arms to greet the people. He remained still, serious and sober, even frightened, I would say. One only saw a white figure who greeted the people affectionately. But he radiated peace and confidence. He showed his mood by speaking without official-sounding rhetoric, like a pastor speaks to the faithful.

And so we have a new Pope, a new father, but one in the image of Francis of Assisi.

But he still really feels like an Uncle Frank to me.

No comments: