Ten years as Pope: Pushing the Church to bring the Gospel to the word

March 9, 2023 at 11:04 p.m.
Ten years as Pope: Pushing the Church to bring the Gospel to the word
Ten years as Pope: Pushing the Church to bring the Gospel to the word

By Cindy Wooden • Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY - For a decade, even when discussing the internal workings of the Vatican, Pope Francis has insisted the Church is not the Church of Christ if it does not reach out, sharing the “joy of the Gospel” and placing the poor at the center of its attention.

Signals that his papacy would be different started the moment he stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica the evening of March 13, 2013: He was not wearing a red, ermine-trimmed cape, and he bowed as he asked the crowd to pray that God would bless him.

His decision not to live in the Apostolic Palace, his invitations to Vatican trash collectors and gardeners and other employees to join him for his daily morning Mass, his insistence on going to the Italian island of Lampedusa to celebrate Mass and pray for migrants who had drowned in the Mediterranean captivated the attention of the media.

But not everyone was pleased with the seeming ease with which he set aside pomp and protocol. And tensions within the Catholic community grew as he expressed openness to LGBTQ Catholics and to those living in what the Church considers irregular marriage situations and when he said in an interview in 2013 that the Church cannot talk only about abortion, gay marriage and contraception.

Action and Outreach

One kind of summary of his first 10 years as Pope can be found in numbers: He has made 40 trips abroad, visiting 60 countries; in eight consistories he created 95 cardinals under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave and paid tribute to 26 churchmen over the age of 80; and he has presided over the canonizations of 911 new saints, including a group of more than 800 martyrs, but also Sts. John Paul II, John XXIII and Paul VI.

In his first major document, the apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” he laid out a program for his papacy, looking inside the Church and outside at the world to see what needed to be done to “encourage and guide the whole Church in a new phase of evangelization, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality.”

The document included a discussion of the need to reform Church institutions to highlight their missionary role; to encourage pastoral workers to listen to and stand with the people they were ministering to – his famous line about having “the smell of the sheep”; to deepen an understanding of the Church as “the entire people of God” and not as an institution or, worse, a club of the elect; to integrate the poor into the Church and society, rather than simply see them as objects of assistance; and to promote peace and dialogue.

‘Church in the Modern World’

For Canadian Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the agenda of Pope Francis is the original agenda of the Second Vatican Council.

Unlike St. John Paul II and the late Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis did not attend any of the council sessions. And, in fact, because he was ordained to the priesthood Dec. 13, 1969, he is the first Pope to be ordained a priest after Vatican II.

“After Scripture and tradition, the council is the significant foundation, and I would say, characteristic orientation of this papacy,” the cardinal told Catholic News Service. “He has taken the council not from a collection of decrees, but from the lived experience of the council as implemented, as lived, as tested, as developed, you might say, in the Church of Latin America.”

St. John XXIII launched the council with a pastoral focus on what it means to be the Church in the modern world, he said. The papacies of St. John Paul and Pope Benedict, he said, “reverted to a more doctrinal understanding of the council” with “some very good results and with some massive, unfinished business.”

While the work of Pope Francis’ predecessors was important, he said, “I don’t think it picked up the primary agenda (of the council), which was implementing a new understanding of Church in the modern world, a new way of evangelizing because the world is so different from how it was, let’s say, at the end of World War II.”

As for disagreements with or even controversies about the papacy of Pope Francis, Cardinal Czerny warned against confusing “loud with representative or loud with majority. Loud doesn’t mean any of those things; it means loud.”

But, he said, “the patience of Pope Francis” leads him and encourages others to recognize that the Pope’s critics “are not 100% off beam,” or off track; there usually is a grain of truth in what they say or an important value they hold dear that is being overlooked.


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VATICAN CITY - For a decade, even when discussing the internal workings of the Vatican, Pope Francis has insisted the Church is not the Church of Christ if it does not reach out, sharing the “joy of the Gospel” and placing the poor at the center of its attention.

Signals that his papacy would be different started the moment he stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica the evening of March 13, 2013: He was not wearing a red, ermine-trimmed cape, and he bowed as he asked the crowd to pray that God would bless him.

His decision not to live in the Apostolic Palace, his invitations to Vatican trash collectors and gardeners and other employees to join him for his daily morning Mass, his insistence on going to the Italian island of Lampedusa to celebrate Mass and pray for migrants who had drowned in the Mediterranean captivated the attention of the media.

But not everyone was pleased with the seeming ease with which he set aside pomp and protocol. And tensions within the Catholic community grew as he expressed openness to LGBTQ Catholics and to those living in what the Church considers irregular marriage situations and when he said in an interview in 2013 that the Church cannot talk only about abortion, gay marriage and contraception.

Action and Outreach

One kind of summary of his first 10 years as Pope can be found in numbers: He has made 40 trips abroad, visiting 60 countries; in eight consistories he created 95 cardinals under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave and paid tribute to 26 churchmen over the age of 80; and he has presided over the canonizations of 911 new saints, including a group of more than 800 martyrs, but also Sts. John Paul II, John XXIII and Paul VI.

In his first major document, the apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” he laid out a program for his papacy, looking inside the Church and outside at the world to see what needed to be done to “encourage and guide the whole Church in a new phase of evangelization, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality.”

The document included a discussion of the need to reform Church institutions to highlight their missionary role; to encourage pastoral workers to listen to and stand with the people they were ministering to – his famous line about having “the smell of the sheep”; to deepen an understanding of the Church as “the entire people of God” and not as an institution or, worse, a club of the elect; to integrate the poor into the Church and society, rather than simply see them as objects of assistance; and to promote peace and dialogue.

‘Church in the Modern World’

For Canadian Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the agenda of Pope Francis is the original agenda of the Second Vatican Council.

Unlike St. John Paul II and the late Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis did not attend any of the council sessions. And, in fact, because he was ordained to the priesthood Dec. 13, 1969, he is the first Pope to be ordained a priest after Vatican II.

“After Scripture and tradition, the council is the significant foundation, and I would say, characteristic orientation of this papacy,” the cardinal told Catholic News Service. “He has taken the council not from a collection of decrees, but from the lived experience of the council as implemented, as lived, as tested, as developed, you might say, in the Church of Latin America.”

St. John XXIII launched the council with a pastoral focus on what it means to be the Church in the modern world, he said. The papacies of St. John Paul and Pope Benedict, he said, “reverted to a more doctrinal understanding of the council” with “some very good results and with some massive, unfinished business.”

While the work of Pope Francis’ predecessors was important, he said, “I don’t think it picked up the primary agenda (of the council), which was implementing a new understanding of Church in the modern world, a new way of evangelizing because the world is so different from how it was, let’s say, at the end of World War II.”

As for disagreements with or even controversies about the papacy of Pope Francis, Cardinal Czerny warned against confusing “loud with representative or loud with majority. Loud doesn’t mean any of those things; it means loud.”

But, he said, “the patience of Pope Francis” leads him and encourages others to recognize that the Pope’s critics “are not 100% off beam,” or off track; there usually is a grain of truth in what they say or an important value they hold dear that is being overlooked.

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