A Jesuit Pope

It has been ten years since Pope Francis was elected. Fr Tom Renshaw SJ describes how this Jesuit Pope has brought an inspiring blend of Ignatian and Franciscan spirituality to the Church and the world.


By Fr Tom Renshaw SJ, Rector of Saint Ignatius’ College, Riverview.

March 13th marked the tenth anniversary of the election of Pope Francis. When Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly resigned the papacy in February 2013, no one expected the new pope to come from Argentina, and certainly not a cardinal who was a Jesuit. For nearly 500 years, the prevailing wisdom was that a Jesuit would never be elected to become the Bishop of Rome.

Every so often, the work of the Spirit can take each of us, individually and communally, by surprise. Cardinal Bergoglio’s choice of the name Francis was also a surprise. A Jesuit pope taking the name of Saint Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscans. In the days following his election, Pope Francis shared with us the reason for his choice of name,

During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend!  When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: “Don’t forget the poor!” And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace.  That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!

Over the last ten years, Pope Francis has given the Church and the world an inspiring blend of both Ignatian and Franciscan spirituality. He has regularly reminded us that evangelisation begins with an encounter of mercy and love in the person of Jesus. There are many symbolic images of Pope Francis embracing the poor of our time. At heart, he is a pastor who, through his personal example, helps us reflect on different ways in which we might respond more fully to the call of the Kingdom of God. He has chosen not to live in the Apostolic Palace but rather in the simpler Vatican guesthouse – Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Pope Francis. Photo by Ashwin Vaswani on Unsplash.

He has a deep love for our common home and our planet, as demonstrated in his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’. He understands the deep interconnections that exist between the human and natural environments. He said,

The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: “Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest”.

Drawing upon his Jesuit life, he has sought to encourage the Church to become more discerning, especially in how we respond to the complexities of our lives. In his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, he encourages all of us to reflect upon how we can accompany and care for families and others in situations of particular need, meeting people where they are, in the joys as well as the struggles, that many, if not all families, experience in various ways. Pope Francis has encouraged us to think of the Church as a field hospital, a place where people are welcome, no matter what is taking place in their lives, and they come to experience healing and mercy.

In more recent years, Pope Francis has invited the global Church to engage with the concept of synodality, of walking together – clergy and laity – discerning what it is that the Lord is asking of the Church in this third millennium. We are being called to a deeper sense of encounter with God and each other, to listen deeply with our hearts so as to discern how the Holy Spirit is calling us to new paths and new ways of speaking. A significant part of the synodal process is providing space for people to talk freely, in genuine dialogue, unafraid to ask questions and to share the fruit of their prayer.

Photo by Barbara Provenzano on Unsplash.

Pope Francis has had a special care and concern for people on the peripheries of the world and the Church. This has been reflected in the greater diversity he has brought to the College of Cardinals and the countries he has chosen to visit. Under Pope Francis, the College of Cardinals has become less European in its membership. There is now greater representation from Africa, Latin America and the Asia Pacific Region, including cardinals being appointed from Papua New Guinea, Tonga, and New Zealand.

He continues to reform the structures and practices of the Roman Curia, and this is no easy task. He is unafraid to call out clericalism and careerism. As part of this renewal of Church governance, he is opening up the possibility of greater involvement and empowerment of women in the decision-making processes of the Church.

Over the last ten years there has been speculation as to whether Pope Francis will resign the papacy, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who died on the last day of last year. Earlier in the year, Francis said that he believes the pope’s ministry is for life and that it should not become a “fashion, a normal thing” for popes to resign.

As we recall the tenth anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, we continue to pray for him and his ministry, that he may continue to lead each of us to a deeper encounter of the mercy and love of our God.

Wishing you and your family every blessing.

This article was originally published in the ‘Viewpoint’ newsletter for Saint Ignatius’ College, Riverview.

Feature photo by Nacho Arteaga on Unsplash

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