Francis of the Poor

I have been on all the foreign trips Francis has made since becoming pope, but his visit in July to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay revealed new dimensions of the man and the impact of his ministry.

“We love people, not concepts or ideas,” he declared during a Mass in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The people know this, especially those who are poor, and millions turned out in each country to cheer him.


One of them was Neysa Rojas, 35, a Bolivian woman who works in a restaurant and struggles on a monthly wage equivalent to $360 to care for her sister’s two daughters, ages 11 and 13, and send them to school. She came to Francis’ Mass to receive his blessing because, she said: “He prays for the poor, he prays for me. He thinks of us who are poor, he is close to us.” Like so many others in these lands she calls him “Amigo de los pobres” (“Friend of the poor”).

Half a century ago Paul VI said people today listen more to witnesses than to teachers, and if they listen to teachers, it’s because they are witnesses. This is so true of Francis. He attracts people to Jesus by how he is and what he does, and they listen.

At the World Youth Day in Rio, I asked many young people from different countries what they liked most about Francis. They responded unanimously, “his humility, his simplicity and his love for the poor.” On every foreign trip since then, including this recent one, I asked that same question, and always received the same answer as at Rio.

Those traits stood out when Francis, visiting the Santa Cruz-Palmasola prison, told its 4,000 inmates: “The man standing before you is a man who has experienced forgiveness. A man who was, and is, saved from his many sins. That is who I am. I don’t have much more to give you or to offer you, but I want to share with you what I do have and what I love. It is Jesus Christ, the mercy of the Father.”

Throughout the visit, the Jesuit pope’s homilies were masterpieces, well worth reading, especially the one at Mass in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where, speaking about the family and the coming synod on that topic in October, he asked people to pray “so that Christ can take even what might seem to us impure...scandalizing or threatening us, and turn it...into a miracle. The family today needs this miracle.”

During his visit, Francis proclaimed “the church’s best kept secret,” its social doctrine. This is of utmost relevance in Latin America. In his speeches Francis applied it incisively to the socio-economic and political situations in Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, advocating, among other things, inclusiveness and dialogue.

He is not only proclaiming the church’s social teaching; he is also developing it, as he did in his encyclical “Laudato Si’.” The presidents and bishops of all three countries praised him for this text, which is so relevant to the lives of their people.

Since becoming pope, Francis has given special attention to the grassroots movements and organizations across the world. He sees them as “sowers of change.” Last year, at his request, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace organized the first World Meeting of Popular Movements, and he spoke at it.

He was given a hero’s welcome when he addressed the second World Meeting of Popular Movements, at Santa Cruz. There, in the most important talk of his entire visit, frequently interrupted by applause, Francis applied the church’s social doctrine to these movements, called for structural changes in the world’s economy and global mobilization to protect “our common home.” He encouraged local churches worldwide to work with these movements.

Then, in a highly significant passage, he asked for forgiveness from the native peoples of America. He acknowledged “with regret” that “many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God” and said, “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the church itself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”

Throughout his exhilarating visit to Latin America, which involved a heavy workload, very high altitudes and changing temperatures, Francis showed remarkable stamina and demonstrated that he is in extraordinarily good health. That is good news for the church.

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norman ravitch
3 years 7 months ago
St. Francis' opposition to wealth and position was a reaction to the growth of a money economy in late medieval Italy. It is not at all clear that his reaction applies equally well to all capitalistic economies. Yes, it was the Italians who began capitalism, not the Jews as many integrist Catholics like to claim. And the Renaissance Papacy was fully committed to capitalism.
norman ravitch
3 years 7 months ago
In the symposium on Pope Francis the three participants, perhaps especially Garry Wills, made a very good point. Francis does not like ideology; he likes people. Ideologies have killed millions, whether religious or secular, whether medieval Catholicism, Nazi German Christianity, or Soviet Leninism. People matter, not the ideas they mistakingly adopt. Utopian ideas are especially noxious. That is why leftists are often, not always, more dangerous than rightists. Left wing ideology wants to create Heaven on earth and damn those who won't allow it to be brought to life. And some rightist utopians, like National Socialists, also want their Heaven on earth. Ordinary Fascism had much less of this, especially in Italy which was only superficially Fascist. The Italians loved Mussolini, even Italo-Americans, because he seemed to be fulfilling the objectives of the Risorgimento. But they quickly found out he was a fraud and a dupe of Hitler. The church in Rome took even longer to realize this as many clerics helped Nazis and Fascists escape to Latin America lest they fall into the hands of God's avenging angels at Nuremberg. Read David Kertzer's book on Mussolin and Pius XI. Granted Kertzer is no lover of the Roman church but his scholarship is fine.
Charles McNamee
3 years 7 months ago
The word "Grace" comes directly from the Latin, "gratia", but let us first look at its most ancient definition in Hebrew: 1. from "chen"(noun) - a quality which arouses favor; it may lie in external appearance or in speech; e.g., "to find favor in the eyes of God and/or man" "one who manifests kindness and compassion in rendering aid; 2. from "chanan"(verb) -to show favor, used of men; an attitude which is proper toward the needy, the poor, the orphan and to any who are in distress. - The act of giving gifts; -Used for Yahweh's acts of benevolence, source of ALL good gifts; -Especially creation [everything from nothing] and forgiveness [ friendship from sinfulness]. Next in its use in the New Testament Greek: 1.from "charis" [χαρις] - it is closely and fundamentally identified with the entire "good news" and is a key word - it is what Christians wish to each other in greeting or in departing( as a Christian translation of the Hebrew 'shalom'). 2. from "charizesthai" (verb) - to give freely as a favor; - with God as the giver, the object given is Christ Profane use (not a "bad" use): - "charis" (noun): - attractiveness( as in the word "charm"); the quality that wins favor; " - good will of God(grace) ...viewed both as act and effects; both as something given and something received and something possessed Derivatives: from Greek (Χαρις)[charis] "charity" the giving of gifts "charisma" A sign of being gifted "charismatic" Possessing great gifts "eu charis tia"- the greatest gift Derivatives in Latin of "Gratia" ("thanks, grace") gratitude, grace, thanksgiving(as in 'eucharist') So, we are meant to be pipelines to others and not barrels to be filled. All good gifts come from God to us in order that we allow those gifts to pass through us to others and ultimately back to God as praise (blessing).. And, as with Mohammed Ali, we point to Allah when we win, for God is the ultimate source of all that we have been given and we can scarcely take credit to ourselves when we help others. When we take all the credit for what we have or do, we constipate our pipe. God (within each of us) gives to God( within everybody else) through us. Mary was “full of Grace” [Lk.1:28]; Jesus was one in whom the “Grace” of God is within Him” [Lk. 2:40]; and to me Mother Theresa, Thomas Keating and Pope Francis possess an abundance of this grace. Whether or not the capitalistic oligarchical economy of the USA will welcome such grace will be seen in September.


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