Rafael Domingo Oslé
Professor researcher of the Center for Law and Religion at Emory University and Full Professor of Law at the University of Navarra.
At 85 years of age and with the physical limitations of his age, Pope Francis continues, firm and indefatigable, steering the old boat of Peter, that mended divine vessel that does not sink, no matter how many misdeeds its crew members do.
When Jorge Bergoglio attended the conclave of 2013, after the historic Withdrawal of Pope Benedict XVI, he probably did not think about the complicated old age that destiny had in store for him: the sexual abuse crisis, the covid-19 pandemic, the persecution of Christians in various parts of the world, and even in much higher numbers, the corrupt bickering with Vatican finances and so many other things.
If Pope Francis has been able to survive so much political, financial, sexual and media hullabaloo, perhaps it is due to two inveterate habits that he has been able to maintain to the letter: his long siesta after lunch and his evening hour of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, which, at times, as the pontiff himself has told us with the simplicity that characterizes him, has also become a restorative siesta. Francis is a very human and very divine shepherd, who does not mind smelling like sheep while he transforms himself at the altar celebrating the Eucharist.
Given this panorama, it is not surprising, a posteriori, that Pope Benedict XVI resigned due to an unexpected impossibility, since dealing with such a task requires physical energy and a mental discipline that is not within the reach of any fortune.
Francisco has it, besides the fact that he knows very well how to measure his forces and his times, to situate himself in the field, to dominate the circumstance and to act at the right moment. For the rest, Francis' intuition is proverbial.
With a great and multifaceted pope like John Paul II and a wise and prudent pope like Benedict XVI (both will be doctors of the Church someday), Francis did not have it easy. But the Argentine pope got it right from the very first moment, when he adopted the name Francis.
His model has been pure holiness incarnated in the humility of the poor man of Assisi. During his years of pontificate, Francis has offered the world a fresh vision of Catholicism, deeply evangelical because it is based on the same image of the merciful Christ, who goes after the lost sheep, eats with publicans and sinners and forgives prostitutes.
Pope Francis has been a great promoter of interreligious dialogue, has strongly condemned the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, has opened the Vatican to all, regardless of race, language, religion, sexual orientation; He has placed women in high positions in the Roman Curia, criticized consumerism and savage capitalism, denounced wars, officially declared that the death penalty is inadmissible, listened with affection to the prisoner, the poor, the oppressed, defended immigrants and refugees, promoted ecumenism and peace. There remain for history his stay on the island of Lampedusa or his courageous trip to Iraq, ignoring the advice of the false prophets.
The pope has been the great theologian of the intrinsic value of the garden that God has prepared for man, and he has been able to tune the thunderous noise of the world with the eloquent silence of the spirit. I always thought that Francis was not going to be a pope of encyclicals. I was frightfully wrong, because Laudato si (of May 24, 2015) and Fratelli tutti (of October 3, 2020) are two masterpieces destined to endure for centuries. For their clarity of exposition and their immediate applicability internship, both are in the top ten of the social magisterium of the Catholic Church.
I believe, however, that the best of Francis' pontificate is yet to come. Francis will go down in history as the pope of synodality, that word he likes to pronounce so much and which will mark the last part of his pontificate. For Francis, "synodality expresses the nature of the Church, its form, its style, its mission statement" (speech to the faithful of the Diocese of Rome, September 18, 2021).
Synodality is the proper way to govern the Church in fraternal communion, in open, sincere and committed dialogue, like the one between Peter and Paul; it is the way to walk in a Church guided by the Holy Spirit, who is the great protagonist of history. And history, all history, is tradition, but not understood - as Francis insists - as a dry bonfire, but as a living fire that invites contemplation of God and service to others, overcoming all paralyzing rigidity.
The Argentine pope knows what he wants and where he is going and is not afraid, not even to make mistakes, because he knows he is a child of God and an instrument in his hands. Therein lies his strength and his spiritual fruitfulness. And his spiritual fruitfulness. Happy birthday, Holy Father!