People are often happy to scratch the surface of discontent and see little victories that offer hope. The major difficulty is that the problems created by any system require that the system be literally dismantled and sent to the sin bin, not the recycling bin. The bishop of Rome, as he refers to himself, signed the encyclical Laudato si, on care for our common home, Francesco or simply Francis. Why does Francis do what he does? To the first question posed to him: Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio? He answered, I am a sinner and he added that he wished it were a verb “mercying” him all the time.
The Church has never had a Pope refer to himself as a sinner. As a sinner it means he could be judged as fallible. As to judging others he startled many when he said, Who am I to judge? Judge not and you shall not be judged. We are on a journey together and we are all sinners. The Church is to be a church of the poor for the poor. The equality and mutuality of membership is fundamental. He prefers a church that is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security.
In the Bible, wisdom is found on the streets. The parable of the five wise virgins and the five foolish virgins. He invited three homeless men and their dog to breakfast on his birthday and had showers installed under his window for the homeless. He lives in a two-room apartment and eats in the cafeteria with the workers at the Vatican. The Church was previously seen as the defender of the faith, a bastion of truth, a hierarchical and paternalistic structure, and yet it was plagued by worldly questions about the equality of women, married clergy, homosexuality, abortion, birth control, freedom, diversity, modernity, and a plethora of questions the Church had swept under the carpet.
Francis reminds the German bishops to leave their Cathedrals and to get out from behind their BMWs. He attacks unfettered capitalism and tells one Prince of the Church to stop building his multi-million dollar cathedral. He has twice called together hundreds of leaders of popular movements and has had little media exposure of these meetings.
There is no we/they syndrome with Francis: We are moved because we have seen and heard not a cold statistic but the pain of a suffering humanity, our own pain, our own flesh. We are the poor, the marginalized, the homeless and they are our interpreters of the sacred texts that give meaning to life. The cry of the people, calling for land, lodging and labor for all our brothers and sisters are sacred rights and a sign of the times. Change is needed. Let’s not be afraid to say it: we need change; we want change. We want change, real change, structural change. We need positive change, a change which is good for us, a change, we can say, which is redemptive.
You, the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged, can do, and are doing, a lot. I would even say that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands, through your ability to organize and carry out creative alternatives. Don’t lose heart!
The Pope and the Church don’t have a recipe. We are to be a leaven of change. The first task is to put the economy at the service of peoples. The second task is to unite our peoples on the path of peace and justice. Our faith is revolutionary. The third task, perhaps the most important facing us today, is to defend Mother Earth.
In conclusion, I would like to repeat: the future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and bring conviction through a process of change.
What is Francis doing? He has returned to the long-forgotten and primary “raison-d’etre” of the church which is to form consciences.