From an unlikely background and geospace, Pope Francis’ election and his piloting of affairs of the Catholic Church lays bare, his uncanny malleability and ability to read global trends
By Nkrumah Bankong-Obi
His previous job descriptions ordinarily would never lead to priestly ordination, much less coronation as the Bishop of Rome and head of The Universal Church. But here we are with a former child actor, a nightclub bouncer and a Chemistry teacher mounting the inherited throne of St. Peter. And effectively continuing in near-perfection, the apostolic mission of the first of Christ’s apostles. It’s not just his early engagements in life but also the storms he has withered that place, Francis, firmly in the garth of the chosen ones, who have been divinely assigned a purpose to accomplish on earth. Surviving a life-threatening lung disease in the days when medical science wasn’t as exactly advanced as it is today confirms indeed that Francis, born Mario Jorg Bergolio, had a grand mission assigned at birth.
Fast-forward to a journey to the clay-cluttered streets of Pasaje and the paved kerbs of Buenos Aires after a stint in Cordoba, and then to Rome. Look at the trajectory of his work as a Jesuit priest and superior of the Order in Argentina. It confirms, with the totality of the controversies that trailed his tenure and how he outwitted them, that the man is specially placed in the care of The Most High for a purpose. Even as Cardinal, Bergolio had clocked retirement age and his letter had been received at The Vatican. But God had a reason to delay that action until the resignation of his immediate successor, Benedict XVI.
All the burning, tending and burnishing of a lifelong journey came to a destined use on 13th of March, 2013, when the world rose in awe to behold at The Vatican balcony, Cardinal Bergolio as the 266th successor of St. Peter and shepherd, pastor of the Mother Church, The Catholic Church. In all instances, Francis has been a man for the times, the untra-changing times. He is an old man who blends with the youth in such a fascinating way. Francis is a clergyman who understands the power of the media, be it new or traditional. He feels the pains of the ordinary people. The pathos – mostly sympathy more than empathy he exudes while dealing with universal disasters like forced migration, earthquakes and manmade tribulations like wars are endearingly significant. Francis has shown himself to be an old-time man of the church with a modern filiation with the social world. The manner he executes his papacy transcends dogma and doctrine.
Three popes have reigned in my life time thus far. I was born during the papacy of John Paul II(Karol Wotyla). Benedict XVI(Josef Ratzinger) began to suprintend over the Church while I was an undergraduate. Unlike St. John Paul II whose papacy I had to read about, I was fully conscious of the essence and role of the pontiff, and could relate to Benedict’s style. While Wotyla was some sort of an activist, a hands-on pastor, Benedict was a professor who was a stickler for following church dogma – an uncompromising student of the church even at a level of reclusive detachment. Francis came along as a unique father firmly ensconced in the travels of his children. I am personally caught by his saying that “The church is a field hospital after battle…” He broadens the frontier of this belief in an exhortation he called Evangelii Gauddium, interpreted simply as The Joy of the Gospel, in which he said “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”. Nothing best sets the framework of his papacy than these words.
He hasn’t deviated from what he believes should be the role of the church in these uncertain and turbulent times. Whether he is washing the feet of a Muslim woman or visiting migrants in a Greek island or taking selfies with young people after his weekly meetings, Francis understands that shuffling copious tomes of doctrine on Vatican desks won’t help in the spread of the ultimate message of salvation. When he refuses to condemn gay couples but offers prayers, the Holy Father is just fitting into Christ’s teaching which emphasis imperfections in all mortals and encourages us to seek to obtain mercy. And that is why mercy has been at the heart of Francis’ ministry as pope.
It’s his flexible management of an old organization with present day techniques that make Time magazine describe him as a “canny operator, who makes masterly use of 21st century tools to perform his 1st century office.” The iconoclastic paper notes that Francis understands the needs of the segments of the super-multicultural institution he oversees. He knows the needs of the divorceee who craves the Holy Communion that the church forbids, the woman who desires to be ordained as priest, a lady who wants to terminate a circumstantial pregnancy, the ambitious senior clergy seeking elevation in the church hierarchy and indeed the homosexual in search of integration and acceptance to be offered divine sacraments. All these are internal squabbles that Francis has battled and continues to settle in the last nine years. It does appear he has generated controversies among some traditional blocs in the Catholic Church. Yet, he hasn’t pandered to any interest other than the precepts of Jesus. Like Christ our redeemer, Francis simply asks, ” who am I to judge?” When doctrinal issues conflict with current realities, hence requiring creative and compassionate application of the gospel.
Christ teaches us to avoid steering middle course in the journey with Him. The Gospels record Him admonishing the disciples to be salt of the earth or get spewed out. Francis is a rich variety of tasteful salt. He leads by example. His messaging is unambiguous, just as his urgency at attending to the needs of those who seek his counsel and direction, whether they be located in the Amazon forests of South America, Arid region of the North Pole, be they in Mail in Sub-saharan Africa or in the farthest ends of Mongolia in the the Far East, Francis is indeed a pontiff for these difficult times, doing his bit for the sake of our shared humanity. His actions have been loud in the form of mediations in the war in South Sudan, his trip to Iraq – to the Ziggurat of Ur and his advice to leaders to create process not occupy spaces. Francis’ interventions in the climate change discourse is illuminating. Here is a father who cares not just about the present times but generations to come. His call for sustainable living and cordial relationship with nature set The Holy Father on the plinth to become perhaps the most important human figure in this century.
As he begins the journey to his tenth anniversary, I can only wish Papa Francisco even greater strides as Christ’s representative on earth. “May the perfect never be an enemy of the good.”
Bankong-Obi t reachable at email@example.com.