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The first 100 days of Pope Francis

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The first 100 days of a pope are not like the first 100 days of a president or prime minister or a CEO. A pope thinks long-term, and is under less pressure to put forward a series of short-term goals or programmes. Most of the issues facing a pope transcend the pragmatic and the political. They require careful thought, prayer and consultation, not a string of policy statements. So what do we know about Pope Francis after 100 days in office? We’ve had no important documents, few significant appointments and no earth-shaking reforms of the Roman Curia. But we do have a healthy dose of papal thinking and papal preaching—on everything ranging from clerical careerism to sweatshop employment. And we have a number of papal gestures that speak volumes to people inside and outside the church. As such, I’d like to identify a few core characteristics and directions that seem to be emerging:



Francis has relocated the papacy outside the Roman Curia
First: Choosing to live in the less formal Vatican guesthouse instead of the papal apartments has turned out to be a crucial decision, because geography counts at the Vatican. The papal apartments are surrounded by Roman Curia offices, deep inside the Apostolic Palace, and Francis would have been much more isolated there. He is a people person. Second: The pope has named a group of nine to advise him on matters of church governance and Roman Curia reform. Only one is a member of the Roman Curia. Nothing said more clearly that Francis intends to rely less on Vatican insiders and more on the world’s bishops when it comes to governing. Third: Much of the pope’s preaching has come in morning masses at the Vatican guesthouse, in off-the-cuff homilies that are brief, insightful and sharply worded. The Vatican bureaucracy doesn’t even consider these homilies part of the pope’s real Magisterium and has yet to publish full texts.



Francis has begun his reform of the Vatican by evangelising
Those who attend the pope’s morning masses are groups of Vatican officials and employees, and his words are directed at them in a particular way. In that sense, Pope Francis’ reform of the Vatican has already begun. For him, “new evangelisation” begins at home.



The pope’s vision of the church’s role is less about internal identity and more about external influence
He wants the church to be present in people’s lives. For priests, that means getting out with their faithful and sharing their problems. For bishops, it means an end to careerism. He told nuncios when evaluating candidates for bishop, they should choose pastors who are close to the people. For lay Catholics, it means being willing to live the gospel and proclaim it joyfully in word and deed, especially to those who are suffering. 



The pope’s social justice agenda is slowly taking centre stage 
His sharply worded challenges to the global economic system indicate that his planned encyclical, “Blessed Are the Poor,” will not be easily spun by defenders of an unrestricted free-market economy. He wants the church to embody concern for the poor and suffering.



He has confidence in his spontaneity 
So far, he’s willing to be unscripted in “safe” settings like the morning mass or an audience with children but also in “unsafe” settings like his conversation with officials of the Latin American Conference of Religious. It seems to me that Francis has decided that, for him, being a pastor is not the same as being a speech-giver. At 100 days, I think we’re beyond the “honeymoon” period. We’re settling into a fascinating pontificate.



Vernon Khelawan is the media relations officer of Catholic Media Services Ltd (Camsel), the official communications arm of the Archdiocese of Port-of-Spain. Its offices are at 31 Independence Square. Telephone: 623-7620. 


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