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It's still an uphill struggle to Calvary

Hopeful signs, but the pope has yet to act for the poor

  • Sophia Lizares Bodegon, Manila
  • Philippines
  • March 20, 2013
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A ray of hope, a sigh of relief – just perhaps, in Pope Francis, there indeed is a new beginning.

How long will the honeymoon last?

For a time, let us keep on hold our expectations about a purge in the Curia, while Francis mulls his Cabinet. Don’t anticipate a change in his stance against women’s ordination and artificial contraception, or in his reported rejection of liberation theology and Marxism.

Like the commoner Diana who put sparkle into an aging monarchy, the papa villero (slum pope) Jorge Maria Bergoglio restored cachet to a Church lacking credibility as he rapidly morphed into Pope Francis.

Quickly he identified with the joys, hopes, grief and anxieties of the majority of Catholic Church’s 1.2 million members on the margins. Francis declared: “Oh, how I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor!”

The media are lapping it up, publishing old photos of him washing the feet of a mother and child, a new photo of him trying to pay his hotel bill, him sitting in the bus; editorial cartoons of him driving the pope mobile while a confused driver stands at the back. Then there are the first prayers for forgiveness and mercy, his choice of mitre, ring and motto.

Having forsaken the trappings of office, he is now called “Francesco il Poverollo del Vaticano”, after Francis of Assisi, who gave up his wealth for a life of humble service. What a declaration of defiance to a world ruled by relativism and lost in the search for wealth and happiness!

Yet for all the apparent freshness in his approach, Francis’ theology could be simply a reiteration of an older narrative in which suffering was the route to grace. For the Church to go forward, he says, the Church must have the courage “to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the cross of the Lord, to build the Church on the blood of the Lord, which is shed on the cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ crucified.”

No doubt it will be an uphill struggle to Calvary, to rebuild the Church he has been chosen to lead. But is this a throwback to the ideology of charity and long-suffering brought by colonizers to Asia, Latin America and Africa, or a genuine embrace of liberation of the crucified God?

In his inaugural address he spoke of his role and that of the Church as that of protector. In a world of violence, uncertainty, and environmental destruction, his words offered comfort: “Protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!”

No mean words for someone who used his office to intervene on behalf of victims of torture and extrajudicial killings during Argentina’s dirty war.

The images of suffering, protection for those who suffer and forgiveness are no doubt hallmarks of the season of Lent, when the Christian Church recalls Christ crucified.

Nevertheless, Lent is but a season wrapped up in a larger story of salvation – the story of a risen Christ. Will Pope Francis resurrect in his narratives this Christ, the first born of God’s new people and herald of God’s reign of peace, mercy and justice?  

So far, the Pope has hammered on the emptying, the letting go of power and rightly so, because he has taken up an office marred by corruption and abuse. It is early days, but when will he speak about wholeness and shalom which Jesus Christ proclaimed?

He has spoken of the Spirit moving in his election, but when will he tell us of Christ’s Spirit moving in the struggling and organized poor in history?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is God’s reign.

Sophia Lizares Bodegon is a member of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) and currently works in lay and continuing education

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