March 11March 11 Editorial: After 10 years, what do we know about Pope Francis? (March 10, 2023)

March 10, 2023


After 10 years, what do we know about Pope Francis?

Monday, March 13, 2023, is the 10th anniversary of Pope Francis’ election to the papacy. The Criterion is publishing a series of articles this month marking this milestone. These articles are exploring the Holy Father’s teaching, his outreach to diverse cultures and communities, and his impact on both the Church and the world. Because Pope Francis is a complex, and at times controversial, pastoral leader, readers are encouraged to read these articles carefully in order to better understand the man, and the pope, who is Jorge Mario Borgoglio (Pope Francis).

There is something about Pope Francis that might be called “multivalent” (susceptible of many different interpretations, meanings or applications).

The late Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George once said that Pope Francis communicates using symbolic gestures such as living in the Vatican guest house, washing the feet of prisoners, and speaking in ways that are surprising (“Who am I to judge?”). According to Cardinal George, symbolic gestures can be very powerful and effective, but they often require some clarification to avoid conveying the wrong messages.

Jesus was, of course, the grand master at communicating through symbolic gestures. All of his miracles, and many of his sayings and parables, are multivalent. They teach at many different levels and convey layers of meaning that require prayerful study and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be fully understood.

Pope Francis is trying to be an authentic missionary disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ and, like Jesus, he has had many successes and some failures. Like his Master, this pope also has many friends and some powerful adversaries.

After 10 years, what do we know about this complex, controversial successor of St. Peter? The articles being published in The Criterion and elsewhere will answer this question in much greater detail, but here are some highlights for our readers’ thoughtful consideration:

Who is Pope Francis? In his own words, at the beginning of his papacy, he told us that he is a sinner. This is true of every human being except Jesus and his Blessed Mother, but it’s an especially significant statement when made by a newly elected pope. I think what the Holy Father was trying to tell us was that he would not be perfect, that he would make mistakes (even significant ones) in his efforts to carry out his mission as the Bishop of Rome (his preferred title).

Pope Francis also told us early in his papacy that he is “a man of the Church.” His mission is to serve the Church, not to be served by it. Those who fear he will make changes that are untrue to the Church’s authentic teachings and traditions should have no fear. Yes, Pope Francis knows how to rock the boat, and to scrape away the barnacles that are attached to the barque of St. Peter, but he has promised not to interfere with the essential mission and identity of the Church he was chosen to serve as its chief shepherd and teacher.

We also know that Pope Francis has deep compassion for the poor, migrants, and those who have been relegated to the margins (the peripheries) of our society. We know that he grieves for families who are suffering from the horrors of war and injustice. And we know that this Holy Father can be intolerant of what he considers rigid or ideological positions that build walls instead of bridges among God’s people.

We also know that Pope Francis has a definite bias in favor of action, and that he deplores the kind of Christian behavior that is self-serving and, as he says, self-referential (“naval gazing”). This pope never tires of urging us to “get off our comfortable couches” and go out to meet people in need where they are.

One of his most striking images of the Church is that of a “field hospital” on the field of battle, caring for the wounded in mind, body and spirit regardless of where they are or what the conditions might be. Perhaps his most startling image is of pastors who have “the smell of their sheep” because they are with them, accompanying them, in all the significant moments of their lives.

Who is Pope Francis? He is the man sent to us by the Holy Spirit at this particular moment in the Church’s history. He is a gift from God called to unsettle the settled and to settle the unsettled. May God continue to bless Pope Francis in his life and mission.

Ad multos annos!

—Daniel Conway

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!