Four years of Pope Francis

EACH time the Roman Catholic Church has a new pope, there is great anticipation globally as the head of the world’s largest Christian denomination is a powerful figure.

Four years ago, Pope Benedict XVI resigned, prompting the College of Cardinals to elect a successor.

Among those vying for this powerful position were Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria and Cardinal Peter Tucson from Ghana.

But it was to be Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio – an Argentinian born on December 17, 1936 – who was to be chosen on March 13, 2013.

The new pope chose “Francis” as his papal name in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi, who cared about the poor and disadvantaged.

It is from that same saint that the mission school in Chivhu district got its name from.

Apart from becoming the first pontiff from the Americas, Pope Francis was also the first cleric from the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) to land the church’s highest job.

On Monday March 13, the Catholic Church commemorated four years since Pope Francis (now 80) entered the Vatican. Last week, an interview that Pope Francis did with German newspaper Die Zeit was published and the subject of “married priests” featured prominently.

Loosely read, it was as if the vow of celibacy was on its way out.

However, a Catholic news agency made sure that the Pope’s remarks were understood in their proper context as they explained: “While Pope Francis’ recent comments on the subject of married priests made headlines around the world, his response falls clearly in line with the thinking of his predecessors.

“In an interview with German newspaper Die Zeit, published in early March, Pope Francis was asked if allowing candidates for the priesthood to fall in love and marry could be ‘an incentive’ for combating the shortage of priestly vocations. He was also asked about the possibility of allowing married ‘viri probati’ – men of proven virtue – to become priests.”

Pope Francis explained: “We have to study whether ‘viri probati’ are a possibility. We then also need to determine, which tasks they could take on, such as in remote communities, for example.”

I asked some local priests how amenable the church here was to the idea of older married men becoming priests and one of them who commented on condition of anonymity said: “There is nothing new about that position. Remember, the Catholic Church accepted some Anglican priests who converted to the Catholic faith. It might not be common in Zimbabwe or other countries, but these exceptional cases happen.

“It should also not be news to a well-formed and informed Catholic. Remember, God’s Will and ways are not ours. The Church pays attention to the voice of the Holy Spirit in her decisions. She does not act on mere human powers or popular demands. But this does not mean that she does not pay attention to her children or the voice of the poor.”

He added that it was important that Pope Francis’ comments are taken within their proper context “for in the real context of the conversation, there is nothing wrong with it”.

I also asked why the Pope limited it to older men instead of opening the door to all men who feel called to serve the church. The priest responded: “In every situation of life and especially on grave religious responsibilities and even in public office, the issue of age and maturity plays an important part.”

Pope Francis has been described as a reformist, but how prepared is he to go with such reforms considering that he also says women will never serve as priests?

Pope Francis Quotable Quotes

Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful, between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the Church’s credibility.

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The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly human goal.

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Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists – they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies.

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Since many of you do not belong to the Catholic Church and others are non-believers, from the bottom of my heart I give this silent blessing to each and every one of you, respecting the conscience of each one of you but knowing that each one of you is a child of God.

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Find new ways to spread the Word of God to every corner of the world.

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It is true that going out on to the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded church that goes out on to the streets and a sick, withdrawn church, I would definitely choose the first one.

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We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a church becomes like this, it grows sick.

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Sometimes negative news does come out, but it is often exaggerated and manipulated to spread scandal. Journalists sometimes risk becoming ill from coprophilia and thus fomenting coprophagia: which is a sin that taints all men and women, that is, the tendency to focus on the negative rather than the positive aspects.

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Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the Church’s credibility.

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Today, the news is scandals; that is news, but the many children who don’t have food – that’s not news. This is grave. We can’t rest easy while things are this way.

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We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace.

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