Pope Francis proclaims an end to the Church of small things

The church is “not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people”

Pope Francis: while his  papacy as already brought with it a huge shift in style more than substance, its effect is and will be truly substantial. Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

Pope Francis: while his papacy as already brought with it a huge shift in style more than substance, its effect is and will be truly substantial. Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

Fri, Sep 20, 2013, 10:27

It was clear almost immediately that this pope was going to be different. He displayed his ease with himself as he was presented to the crowds in St Peter’s Square that damp night on March 13th last.

There was the humour as he told how his cardinal-electors had gone to the ends of the earth to find him, the unaffected humility as he asked for the people’s blessing, and his choice of the name Francis.

These first impressions were underlined at his first public audience as pope on March 16th when he met the world’s media and went off script to explain how he chose the name Francis. How his old friend Cardinal Claudio Hummes told him “don’t forget the poor”, which immediately made him think of Francis of Assisi. He commented, in a phrase which was a casual aside but looks like defining his papacy, “how I would like a church which is poor and for the poor!”

“Afterwards, people were joking with me. ‘But you should call yourself Hadrian, because Hadrian VI was the reformer, we need reform . . . ’ And someone else said to me: ‘No, no: your name should be Clement’. ‘But why?’ ‘Clement XV: thus you pay back Clement XIV who suppressed the Society of Jesus!’ These were jokes, ” he said.


Human complexity
Jokes from a pope and about what had taken place at the conclave that had just elected him are not commonplace. But what really won over his audience that morning was the warmth, the sense that this man liked people, even liked that audience he was speaking to there in the Paul VI hall.

Media people may be used to public figures trying to win them over but it was clear even then that Pope Francis wasn’t employing any strategy.

He just liked being with the people who were there, and as they were in all their human complexity. This latter point he made explicit in his final words that morning.

He said: “since many of you are not members of the Catholic Church, and others are not believers, I cordially give this blessing silently, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each, but in the knowledge that each of you is a child of God. May God bless you!”

It was touching then in the breadth of the embrace and as underlined in his words and actions since. Because this is a man whose broad soul has a place for everyone.


Reaching out
Not since John XXIII has Catholicism had such a pope, a shepherd who reaches out to all of humanity while also remaining a true son of the church, which he made clear again in the interview published yesterday. And while the papacy of Francis has already brought with it a huge shift in style more than substance, its effect is and will be truly substantial. There are people now prepared to listen to this pope who could hardly be bothered with his predecessors.

‘Heal the wounds’
In words which will resonate with many, within and without the Catholic Church, Pope Francis said he saw the church “as a field hospital after battle”.

“It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.

“Heal the wounds, heal the wounds . . . And you have to start from the ground up. The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.

“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”

What his papacy brings with it is an end to the church of small things.

The full text of the Pope's interview is available here