Eight years ago this evening we first met the new Holy Father, Pope Francis, when he stepped out onto the loggia of Saint Peter’s Basilica.
Although we didn’t know him at that moment, our first clue to his pontificate was the name he had just chosen – Francis. And like his namesake, the Pope would go on to declare that his vision of the Church would be that of “a poor Church, for the poor”. He would also speak of the Church as “a field hospital”, whose doors were wide open – and especially to all those on the “peripheries” of life and of the Church herself. Not surprisingly, this would set him on a collision course with some within the Church – particularly, the ‘career’ priests, bishops and cardinals, those for whom the Church is not about service but about power, wealth, prestige. Sometimes it is only when we put the light on that we realise how dark the corners of the room actually are, and how badly they need to be swept. The room needed to be aired, too – and the Holy Father has gently blown across the entire Church the cleansing breeze of the Holy Spirit, carrying the authentic spirit of the Second Vatican Council. This is not a Church stuck in the past, but constantly seeking to move forward, through the desert and across the mountain.
Throughout these eight years, the Holy Father has been precisely what the Church needs in this moment of her history – an outsider, humble, wise, prudential, gentle, firm, reforming, prayerful, holy and a true father and shepherd. History will judge this Holy Father well, I think.
For me personally, the first word I associate with Pope Francis is ‘mercy’. Mercy has characterised his decision-making, his perspective, his spirituality. And all of this culminated in the proclamation of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy which took place in 2016. In this, Pope Francis completed what Pope John Paul had begun and which Pope Benedict had continued. Pope Francis not only spoke and wrote about mercy – he lived it, too. Quietly, and with great consistency, he has shown us day after day what it looks like to actually be “merciful like the Father”. I had the great privilege of visiting Rome in that Jubilee Year and of passing through the Door Of Mercy – a moment I will never forget – and of seeing the Holy Father in St Peter’s Square.
I give thanks every day for this Holy Father and I pray for him, that the Lord might grant him every necessary grace to fulfil the task given to him.