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I told you he would be a good pope! Francis has become extremely popular both within and outside the Catholic world. He both teaches and practices simplicity and mercy; he wears simple clothes and refuses to live in the fancy apostolic palace while emphasizing the duty of Christians to embrace the poor, wounded and lost. Recently, his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium has received a lot of attention in the media. It is mainly about evangelism and missions, but what has caught the attention of many is his criticism of capitalism:
“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.
“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?
“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.”
Many are quite surprised by this and speculate whether it is an influence of Latin American liberation theology, since pope Francis comes from Argentina. However, while Francis definitely has a stronger emphasis on social justice than his predecessors, this thoughts should probably by no means have been alien to them. John Paul II wrote in his encyclical letter Centesimus Annus:
“It would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs. But this is true only for those needs which are ‘solvent’, insofar as they are endowed with purchasing power, and for those resources which are ‘marketable’, insofar as they are capable of obtaining a satisfactory price. But there are many human needs which find no place on the market. It is a strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental human needs to remain unsatisfied and not to allow those burdened by such needs to perish.”
As I hoped, we got a non-European pope! And as I suspected, the non-European pope was quite passionate for social justice. Even though some question marks have been raised concerning Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s actions during the Argentinian civil war in the 70’s, few can deny that he has been working hard against inequality, poverty and oppression as archbishop of Buenos Aires. He combines this activism with simplicity – as a cardinal, he lived in an ampartment instead of the usual palace, he took the bus instead of his chaffeur-driven car, and he cooked his own meal.
Many has pointed to the fact that his papal name, Francis, expresses this concern for the poor. S:t Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) sure was a radical, Christ-like activist. He sold everything he had, preached simplicity, loved the poor, criticised the rich and proclaimed the Kingdom of God. However, the new Pope is said to have another Francis in mind as well: S:t Francis Xavier (1506-1552). He is less well-known but just as radical – as a missionary in Asia he worked hard for poverty reduction and development while he was also spreading the Gospel.
Both of these Francises were charismatic activists. They combined their passion för justice and evangelism with marvelous signs and wonders in the power of the Holy Spirit. Francis of Assisis most famous miracle is probably the stigmata – the wounds of Christ supernaturally appearing on his body. But he experienced a lot. Marilynn Hughes writes:
Yesterday, world news was dominated by the announced retirement of Pope Benedict XVI. After having been amazed by the fact that he is the first pope to resign in almost 600 years, the global media started to speculate about who would become the next bishop of Rome. Many think or hope that he will come from Latin America or Africa.
Since I’m not a Catholic, and especially not a cardinal, it could be argued that I shouldn’t express views on pope elections. But as a Christian with love for all of Christ’s church, across denominations as well as nations, I still want to question the European dominion over the Holy See.
I respect Catholic’s conviction that all popes are elected through the prophetic guidance of the Holy Spirit; still all prophecy should be tested (1 Th 5:19-20). Was it really the will of God that during the last 500 years when Catholicism has expanded across the globe, especially in Latin America, all popes have been European? In fact, before John Paul II, every single one was Italian. Apart from a few North Africans and Syrians, and S:t Peter himself of course, all popes have been white Europeans during all of church history.