Pope Francis rekindles hope in Church

- Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Holy Week is a period to refocus our faith. It is a period to reassess what we have become, confess we have fallen short as we always do and to pray that we may be able to start all over again in our pilgrimage of faith. Lent is indeed, a period of renewal...

This year, it is a little bit more than the usual. It is a period of renewal too for our Church. Like us, our Church, an institution led by fallible men, has obviously lost its way too. And just when many of us were about ready to lose hope, great things started to happen to reinvigorate our faith.

If we are looking for solid proof that the Holy Spirit is working to inspire the people of God and renew the Church, the events of recent weeks provide that. Newly elected Pope Francis said it himself when he declared that the protagonist of all these events is the Holy Spirit. “It was He who inspired the decision of Benedict XVI for the good of the Church, it was He who inspired the choice of the cardinals”.

The choice of the Argentinean Cardinal as the new Pope is indeed inspired. The Church seems to have lost its way, emphasizing rituals, traditions and questionable man-made doctrines much like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. It is mired in scandals and has lost its moral compass. Then, the new Pope surprised the world with his message of humility... of wanting to lead the Church of the poor.

A Jesuit known for his simple life as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he chose to live in a small apartment, cooking his own meals rather than be in the splendor of the Archbishop’s Palace. He took public transport to work. I can’t imagine any of our local archbishops doing that... honestly! I can imagine many status conscious Filipino bishops thinking Pope Francis has taken things a bit too far.

The new Pope has chosen the name Francis to deliver a strong message: To be like St Francis of Assisi who lived an austere life, renouncing earthly riches to work with the poor. Pope Francis clearly intends to bring the Catholic Church back to the basics of its faith.

Leonardo Boff, a blogger, wrote that “Francis is not just a name, it is a project of the Church, poor, simple, evangelical and bereft of power. She is a Church that walks with the least among us, that creates the first communities of brothers and sisters who pray the breviary under the trees with the little birds... I believe Pope Francis has in mind a Church removed from the palaces and symbols of power.”

That’s not the Church you and I see today. We see a Church ruled by self-important men enjoying the trappings of power like any politician and yes, moved by money. A bishop in Bacolod is playing power politics, endorsing and condemning senatorial candidates in our coming election.

At the Holy See itself, an Italian archbishop was exiled to a diplomatic post in the United States after trying to root out corruption and financial mismanagement in the administration of Vatican City. Letters of the archbishop leaked to media revealed nepotism and corruption, price gouging and waste. The Archbishop also accused some bankers who assist the Vatican with its finances as acting more in their own interest than in the church’s.

Pope Francis is taking over leadership of a Church demoralized by the scandals that affected her most precious resource: morality and credibility. Thus, he has rejected the pomp and splendor of the papacy and the church hierarchy as he brings the Church more in spirit with the early Church of the Apostles.

I am already inspired... my faith rejuvenated just learning more about Pope Francis. I like the idea of Pope Francis for a Church that is poor, simple, evangelical and derives its power from its unassailable moral leadership.

I am not even worried that Pope Francis is as traditional as current Church leaders are on family planning. If bishops, priests and lay leaders follow his lead and actually work among the poor, they will see the problem first hand. The Holy Spirit working through their conscience will tell them what to do next. That’s  what happened to some American nuns recently chastised by the former Pope.

Nothing illustrates better how detached Church leadership has become to the poor than official Church reaction to this group of American nuns. As the Associated Press reports, “the nuns were accused of having focused too much on social justice at the expense of other church issues such as abortion.”

What makes these nuns down to earth is the work they do among the most needy as enumerated in an article on globalpost.com:

From South Central Los Angeles to the Bronx, American nuns and the missions they serve offer ministry every day to those suffering a myriad of problems that arise out of broken families, generational poverty and a sweeping indifference by too many.

In the Congo where women are systematically raped in a country where sexual violence is a tool of war, American nuns do what they can to save lives and minister to deep wounds.

In the slums of Asia where human trafficking forces desperately poor women and children into lives of prostitution and often sentences them to AIDS, these nuns do not preach or moralize but do anything they can to save lives.

Globalpost.com reports: “This kind of field work often puts the nuns who do it up against strict Catholic doctrine on birth control, homosexuality and other thorny issues that always seem more nuanced and complex when they involve real people who are suffering in real time.”

Garry Wills, a former Jesuit had this great observation in an article at the New York Review of Books:

“The Vatican has issued a harsh statement claiming that American nuns do not follow their bishops’ thinking. That statement is profoundly true. Thank God, they don’t. Nuns have always had a different set of priorities from that of bishops.

“The bishops are interested in power. The nuns are interested in the powerless. Nuns have preserved Gospel values while bishops have been perverting them. The priests drive their own new cars, while nuns ride the bus (always in pairs). The priests specialize in arrogance, the nuns in humility.”

Here at home, I am reminded of what happened to Tony Meloto when he initially launched Gawad Kalinga as a project of a Church lay group. He was criticized by a rival group supposedly for letting Gawad Kalinga overshadow doctrinal purity. Apparently, helping the poor is not as important for this group favored by the bishops.

It is too early to tell how much influence the Pope will have on the bishops and priests. The Church is large enough for even the Pope, the vicar of Christ, to be ignored if he threatens the comfort zone of bishops, priests and lay leaders.

It is also too early to tell how much the Pope will move to put into action what he has symbolically conveyed since he was elected. It is too early to tell how the new Pope will influence what someone called “a tearing tug-of-war about the meaning of justice, and the denial of justice in a church that has become deeply polarized in the half-century since Vatican II called for a church engaged with the modern world.”

I am also skeptical if the pomposity of our local bishops, priests and lay leaders will allow them to adjust to this Gospel of poverty the new Pope preaches. But we must welcome this fresh wind of change coming upon us this Lenten season. This enables us to see the Resurrection on Easter Sunday as the start of renewal in our Church.

By bringing us all back to the basics of Christianity as taught by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Pope Francis is steering us back to what is important.

The Holy Spirit inspired the election of Pope Francis at a time when there is a huge hunger for spiritual leadership in our Church. We have been driven from the Church because of this absence of spiritual leadership. This is why Pope Francis came across as a gush of fresh air in a putrefied Church atmosphere.

If Pope Francis follows through his early symbolic gestures, sheer leadership by example should shame the rest of the Church’s hierarchy to rethink and contribute to a renewal of the Church. For now, we can only pray and look into ourselves and see how we ought to play our roles to make this renewal in our Church happen.

May this Easter season renew our faith through the working of the Holy Spirit!

A Happy Easter to everyone.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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