A Church for the Poor – The Vision of Pope Francis
What of kind of church does Pope Francis envision? Jorge Bergoglio, in his initial public statements and even in the choice of his Papal name, Francis, has made it clear that the church needs to be a servant of the poor and the herald of the gospel. These terms come from Cardinal Avery Dulles’ Models of the Church and are based on the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1961-1965). While most of us tend to see the church as an institution and perhaps as a sacrament, Pope Francis is highlighting the notion of the church as a community, a school of disciples, which is the servant of the poor in its role as herald of the gospel.
This emphasis began before Vatican II but it became especially pronounced after the council in a movement called liberation theology. For St. John Paul II, this approach was more reminiscent of Marxism than the gospel, so he took certain steps to curtail it. Pope Benedict XVI, his successor, took a more measured view and focused on aspects of this theology that started from a pastoral and community viewpoint as opposed to a political one. At an important conference to promote this view in Aparecida, Brazil in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI chose Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires to formulate this renewed expression of a church for the poor.
In a recent opinion column in the New York Times, Paul Vallely, Director of The Tablet, an international Catholic weekly publication based in London, outlines the history of Liberation theology and the Pope’s restoration and enhancement of it. The pope welcomed Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez to the Vatican earlier this year. Fr. Gutierrez began the movement with his 1971 book A Theology of Liberation. Pope Francis has also removed the block placed by St. John Paul II to the canonization process of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador who because of his opposition to political repression was shot while saying Mass. An even more telling sign is the Pope’s treatment of Nicaragua’s former foreign minister, Fr. Miguel D’Escoto Brockman. Fr. D’Escoto had been suspended from the priesthood by St. John Paul II and Pope Francis has lifted the suspension.
A pope who lives in a guest house and stands in the cafeteria line with his own tray has taken hold of the attention and imagination of the Catholic and non-Catholic world alike by being a voice for the voiceless. Pope Francis is leading us to be a different kind of church, one that is closer to the gospel, less secure, less majestic, ready to serve the suffering Christ in the destitute of the world.