The people’s pope is challenging us to emerge from our comfort zones

Opinion: Everyone seems to love Francis and everyone wants to co-opt him to their own agenda

Sun, Dec 22, 2013, 00:01

When Fr Jorge Bergoglio was managing a Jesuit seminary in Buenos Aires, the bishop asked Fr Bergoglio to be the parish priest of a completely new parish.

The church was a converted shed, mostly made of plywood. Fr Bergoglio was undeterred. He deployed his seminarians, telling them to walk the streets and to meet every single family. He gave them an intriguing instruction – don’t comb the sheep. It apparently means something like don’t cherry pick.

In other words, he wanted them to reach out to everyone, not just the appealing people, or the ones who were likely to respond positively.

Fr Bergoglio didn’t sit in his shed, waiting for people to come to him, bemoaning the rapid secularisation of society, or fretting about the unpromising circumstances. He went out, and brought his students with him.

This was an area where people could only afford to give their children one meal a day, so the first thing they did was buy a big cooking pot and cook meals, first in a woman parishioner’s house, and then in an open field.

Today, there are three churches and thriving social services in the area where the original parish started.

As Pope Francis, he has a very similar message. Don’t stay penned up in your cosy ghettos. He really has a gift for the memorable phrase. In his last document, called Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) he says: “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.”

Aside from a few traditionalists who fear he will destroy the church, and a few radicals who think that he does not go far enough, everyone seems to love Francis. Everyone wants to co-opt him to their own agenda, to applaud a pope made in their own image and likeness.

I love him too, but he scares the heck out of me. Theologically, I am totally comfortable with what he is teaching. I love his critique of capitalism, and his description of clerical careerism as “leprosy”.

I am also profoundly grateful that in the same document I mentioned, he writes: “It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life,” rapidly followed by “. . . all of us, as Christians, are called to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, and all its peoples.”

No, he scares the heck out of me because he lives out what Jesus taught, and he expects the same of anyone who calls themselves a Christian. I can feel my comfort zones evaporating all around me.

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