Pope Francis @10: Tapestry of love, witness and opposition

Pope Francis arrives for the weekly general audience on March 8, 2023 at St. Peter's square in The Vatican. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

It is needless to say that Pope Francis’ election as pontiff was a surprise to some, especially within higher hierarchy of the Church, if we can recollect the faces that drew attention from international media as ‘likely’ candidates

The Catholic Church welcomed the new pastor of Rome on  March 13, 2013. Pope Francis assumed his Petrine ministry of governance and spiritual guidance over the Church following Pope Benedict XVI’s unprecedented resignation.

This moment gave many of us the opportunity to experience two living popes: The few moments that Francis and Benedict XVI appeared together, whether in pictures or public events, were historic.

It is needless to say that Pope Francis’ election as pontiff was a surprise to some, especially within higher hierarchy of the Church, if we can recollect the faces that drew attention from international media as ‘likely’ candidates.

Elsewhere, some theologians and academicians within Catholic spheres of study were also skeptic because we had a new Pope different with a different background from his two predecessors, whose theological and philosophical thoughts flowered Catholic libraries and personal bookshelves. Looking back, I share three key highlights about Pope Francis’ 10th papal anniversary.

First, there is a common portrait of the last three successive popes that was widely shared across social media platforms. It was an interesting demonstration of how their respective papacies correlated to the three theological virtues: St John Paul II was a beam of hope to the world; Benedict XVI was a teacher of faith and Francis is the archetype of love. Throughout his papacy, Pope Francis seeks to spread the golden dust of God’s love to whoever he encounters, through simple acts as simple as smiling, laughter and embrace. He exudes such a fierce force of simplicity that challenges our contemporary perception of highly privileged personalities.

This all begun after assuming the Chair of St Peter, when Pope Francis chose to reside in a community setting over the Apostolic Palace - the official papal residence. He indicated that this would enhance his psychological health. His choice of cars during foreign apostolic trips across the globe also tells of his simplicity of life. In 2015, he was chauffeured in a Honda and a little Kia Soul during his visits in Kenya and Uganda, respectively, in contrast to the SUVs that are commonly driven by other foreign leaders for many reasons, including security and comfort. Pope Francis has given leadership a human face, especially through openness about his health conditions.

An acutely painful strained ligament in his right knee has restricted Pope Francis to oscillating between a wheelchair and cane for easy movement since May 2022, even on foreign trips.

“You do not run the Church with the knee, he once joked with his aide, “but with the head.” This is in sharp contrast with many political leaders who remain discreet about their health ailments, many a time due to cling to power at the detriment of their own lives.

Second, Pope Francis has exhibited peace militancy in quest for unity, solidarity and pacifism amidst tensions between nations. When Russia commenced its offensive in Ukraine, he made an early courtesy visit to the Russian embassy in Rome to share his personal concerns about the war and relay Vatican’s willingness to mediate peace between the two belligerents.

The pontiff has gone against all odds to make apostolic journeys to war-torn or post-conflict territories, some of which would hardly make it to the itinerary of foreign leaders.

He visited Iraq in 2021, Central African Republic (CAR) in 2015, and most recently South Sudan and DRC. He has time and again expressed his desire to visit Syria, whose 12-year-old war was recently exacerbated by 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

Thirdly, the pontiff has tactfully dealt with conservative opposition from highly placed individuals within the Church hierarchy, especially from his predecessor’s loyalists.

Much of the criticism against the Francis’ pontificate is sparked by his “overly” inclusive vision of the Church, as welcoming to all people of God. Francis invented another mode of the Church which he likened to a “field hospital” where Christians are not prized for their righteousness, but rather a place where the Eucharist is medicine for the sick.

Pope Francis’ remarks and personal sentiments about the highly volatile issue of homosexuality have also been construed as deviatory from the Church teaching.

He recently equated criminalisation of homosexuality to sin; and previously indicated that judgment of homosexuals would be taking a place that is not his.

This year marks a rather interesting phase for Francis’ pontificate, given that the better part of the last 10 years was under the shadow of his predecessor.

Augustine Bahemuka , [email protected]