As you may know, I’m writing a thesis in systematic theology about belief in miracles according to three church leaders: Surprise Sithole, K.G. Hammar and pope Francis. This is what I’ve found concerning the pope’s view on miracles:
Jose Mario Bergoglio, who would become Pope Francis, was born in in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1936. After a brief career as a chemical technician and a bar bouncer, he studied theology to become a Jesuit and a priest. In 1992 he became bishop of Buenos Aires and in 1998 archbishop of the same. He became known for his care for the poor and marginalised and was called “bishop of the slums”.
In Latin America, the charismatic movement is growing fast, both outside and inside the Catholic church. After Bergoglio became a pope, he would reveal how his view of the charismatic movement changed during the 80’s and 90’s, from skeptical to welcoming:
I’ll tell you something about the Charismatic Movement … at the end of the ’70s and in the ’80s, I wasn’t a big fan. I used to say they confused the holy liturgy with a school of samba. I was converted when I got to know them better and saw the good they do. In this moment of the life of the church, the movements are necessary. They’re a grace of the Spirit, and in general, they do much good for the church. The charismatic renewal movement isn’t just about winning back a few Pentecostals, but it serves the church and its renewal.
In 1996 to 1999, bishop Bergoglio was involved in the process of verifying a eucharistic miracle, where a host had allegedly turned into a piece of flesh in a church in central Buenos Aires. According to an article in Catholic magazine Love One Another, Bergoglio ordered that the host should be photographed and scientifically analyzed. The article says that Dr. Ricardo Castanón sent it for analysis in New York, and he was told that the substance was a fine slice of a heart muscle. Dr Castanon speak about this himself in a video that can be found on YouTube:
After Benedict XVI resigned in 2013, Bergoglio was elected new pope and took the name Francis after the medieval saint from Assisi. As a pope, he has been responsible for approving miracles in the canonization of saints. In July 2013, Francis declared that the recovery of Floribeth Mora Diaz from Costa Rica was miraculous. In 2011, she had a brain aneurysm and could not afford treatment in Mexico or Cuba, so the doctors said that she had not long to live. On May 1, the same day when former pope John Paul II was beatified, Diaz saw the pontiff in a vision, telling her “Floribeth, get up, what are you doing here?”
Diaz was then feeling healthy, and when examined, the brain aneurysm was gone. Brain surgeon Alejandro Vargas Roman says: “The question of why it disappeared without surgical intervention is without explanation. I have never read about this anywhere in the world.” And: “If I cannot explain it from a medical standpoint, something non-medical happened.” After declaring this a miracle, pope Francis canonized John Paul II as a saint.
Conversely, when explaining why he has not canonized controversial pope Pius XII, he referred to the lack of a confirmed miracle: “There’s still no miracle,” he said. “If there are no miracles, it can’t go forward. It’s blocked there.”
Soon after his papal inauguration, Francis prayed for a man in a wheelchair during mass at S:t Peter’s square, laying both hands on the man’s head while the latter started heaving and shaking. The media started to speculate whether Francis had performed an exorcism, something fr. Gabriele Amorth, chief exorcist of the diocese of Rome, insisted that he had. The Vatican, however, announced that the pope “didn’t intend to perform any exorcism. But as he often does for the sick or suffering, he simply intended to pray for someone who was suffering who was presented to him.”
The man who received prayer told Spanish newspaper El Mundo that he did seek pope Francis for an exorcism, but he believed that the demons were still inside him. On the other hand, El Mundo states that he could walk after pope Francis had prayed for him.
In October 2014, pope Francis gave his support and blessing to the International Association of Exorcists, encouraging them to show “the love and welcome of the Church for those possessed by evil”. Back in 2010, when Francis was an archbishop of Buenos Aires, he wrote in his book On Heaven and Earth:
“I believe that the devil exists. Maybe his greatest achievement in these times has been to make us believe that he does not exist, and that all can be fixed on a purely human level.” (On Heaven and Earth, p. 8)
Similarly, in October 2014 he argued that angels are real beings interacting with humans: “The doctrine on angels is not fantasist. No, it’s reality […] How often have we heard ‘I should do this, I should not do this, that’s not right, be careful…’ So often! It is the voice of our travelling companion […] No one journeys alone and no one should think that they are alone,”
This belief in the supernatural has made pope Francis, as we have seen, positive towards the charismatic movement. In June 2014, the pope attended a Catholic charismatic renewal convention in Rome, where he said:
I expect from you that you share with all, in the Church, the grace of Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
In the next month he was the first pope ever who visited a Pentecostal church. He asked for forgiveness for how Catholics had been hostile to Pentecostals:
“Among those who persecuted and denounced Pentecostals, almost as if they were crazy people trying to ruin the race, there were also Catholics. I am the pastor of Catholics, and I ask your forgiveness for those Catholic brothers and sisters who didn’t know and were tempted by the devil.”
“Someone will be surprised: ‘The pope went to visit the evangelicals?’ But he went to see his brothers.”
In Francis’ first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, he wrote about “charisms”, gifts of the Spirit:
The Holy Spirit also enriches the entire evangelizing Church with different charisms. These gifts are meant to renew and build up the Church. They are not an inheritance, safely secured and entrusted to a small group for safekeeping; rather they are gifts of the Spirit integrated into the body of the Church, drawn to the centre which is Christ and then channelled into an evangelizing impulse.”
How, then, does Francis view Biblical miracles? In his homilies he often does an allegorical interpretation, saying that Jesus can heal us from sin or that Jesus can raise anyone from a dead, tired soul. However, it seems like the pope also believe that the Gospel accounts tell us about historical events. While saying that Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fishes send a message to us about sharing the world’s resoruces, Francis describes the event as historical. The same is true for the virgin birth, and especially for the resurrection of Christ:
“This is not a lie, ok? This is truth. We believe that Jesus Resurrected. Jesus is among us and alive right now. But, do you really believe that He is alive? Oh, you don’t? Yes or no? So, if Jesus is alive, do you think He would just let us die without resurrecting us? No! He waits for us because He has risen. The power in His Resurrection will raise us too.”