Already this year he has visited Egypt, Portugal and Colombia with Bangladesh and Myanmar still to come and Chile, Peru, India, France and Ireland confirmed for 2018. That’s on top of 26 other countries visited since he was elected in March 2013. Not bad for an 80-year-old who once described himself as a “homebody”.
In Colombia, not even a black and bruised eye could dampen his spirits after he lost his balance in the Popemobile when it was driving through a crowd in Cartagena last month.
The smiling Pope continued the trip wearing a bandage over his cut. “I was punched. I’m fine,” he joked afterwards.
The current Pope’s energy is not restricted to travelling the globe either; at home he has been busy writing numerous motu proprio (edicts issued by the Pope personally to the Roman Catholic Church or part of it). The latest involved replacing the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, founded in 1981, with the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for the Sciences of Marriage and the Family.
By making it a theological institute charged with studying marriage and the family from a scientific perspective, he has widened its capabilities at the pastoral, missionary and academic level to take into account “the reality of the family today in all its complexity, with its lights and shadows”.
In late August Pope Francis invoked his ‘magisterial authority’ to declare that liturgical reform “brought to maturity” by the Second Vatican Council was “irreversible”.
By liturgical reform, Pope Francis was referring to changes in Catholic rituals and modes of worship such as facing the congregation at Mass, the use of vernacular languages, and a stronger emphasis on the full, conscious and active participation of the people.
It’s just one more sign of his determination to have a Church that is in touch with, and speaks to, the realities of today’s modern world.
There is an urgency to his papacy which runs counter to an institution often slow to react. Pope Francis has admitted recently that this slowness was part of its downfall in the handling of the child sexual abuse crisis.
Endorsing ‘zero tolerance’ of clergy abuse in his address to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, he said the Catholic Church had been “late” in facing and properly addressing the sin of sexual abuse by its members.
The Pope reportedly set aside his prepared text to speak more informally. “When consciousness comes late, the means for resolving the problem comes late,” he said. “I am aware of this difficulty. But it is the reality: We have arrived late.”
“Perhaps,” he said, “the old practice of moving people” from one place to another and not fully facing the problem “lulled consciences to sleep.”
His honesty is a breath of fresh air.
Similarly, no matter what piece of Scripture he is reflecting on, Pope Francis has the uncanny knack of saying something that hits the mark at that particular time, whether it’s encouraging us to be more merciful and compassionate or simply instilling a sense of joy in being alive.
Equally inspiring is his spontaneous approach to life, such as when he met a group of young Italians gathering in the Vatican recently. After arriving on foot at the Paul VI Hall from his Saint Martha’s residence, he had an unscheduled chat with the young people until he was required at the Sunday Angelus. He then joined them again in the afternoon for an hour or so. Not terribly unusual except that he’s the Pope! The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano described it as an “informal, family meeting”. “It all unfolded in simplicity and spontaneity.”
On another level – literally – Pope Francis was flying home from Colombia when he decided to send telegrams to the leaders of all the countries that he flew over – including President Trump. One wonders what was going through his head as he looked out the window of the plane, but this is what he sent:
AS I FLY THROUGH UNITED STATES AIRSPACE FOLLOWING MY APOSTOLIC VISIT TO COLOMBIA, I ONCE AGAIN PRAY FOR YOUR EXCELLENCY AND YOUR FELLOW CITIZENS, THAT ALL OF YOU MAY CONTINUE TO ENJOY THE ABUNDANT BLESSINGS OF ALMIGHTY GOD.
Now that’s diplomacy!