This pontificate on the pope's birthday

Still tirelessly seeking reform, the first pope from the Americas is celebrated by 'La Civilta Cattolica'
This pontificate on the pope's birthday

Pope Francis looks up during the annual feast of the Immaculate Conception at Piazza di Spagna in Rome on Dec. 1. La Civilta Cattolica is publishing expert assessments of the key points of his papacy. (Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)

The longer the current pontificate goes, the more the stridency of a small but shouting minority seeks to distract attention from the reform agenda Pope Francis is following. However much that agenda is widely and warmly appreciated across the world, the noisy minority keeps up its chant.

He turns 82 on Dec. 17 and shows no sign of slackening the pace that would tire a man half his age. And well into his sixth year as pope, La Civilta Cattolica is publishing assessments of the key points of this papacy.

When he was elected as bishop of Rome, I asked a friend of mine who was born in Australia of migrant Italian parents but who has spent much of his professional life working in Italy how an outsider would react to becoming pope.

"Like the rest of us who've worked outside Italy," he said. "We return to work there and wonder why they do things the way they do when everywhere else people have just moved on."

Not so at the Vatican as Pope Francis has found. And by this stage of his life you'd think he needs a rest. Not so, Papa Bergoglio. He's a man on a mission from which he could never retire even if he wanted to.

Five years on and during the month of his birthday, La Civilta Cattolica in its English edition is publishing an assessment of a reforming pontificate — its origins in Bergoglio's personal and spiritual imagination, its shape and contours on subjects as diverse as the intimacy of marriage arrangements and their unraveling to the long-term threat to humanity itself from a disturbed environment.

The first pope from the Americas, the child of migrants, someone who's known political convulsions and whose country has been hammered by corruption and adverse economic turns: he is well placed to appreciate what many people throughout the world experience. And his responses in significant actions and gestures, in letters and speeches, in appointments and stated priorities all merit assessment.

But first and foremost, in discovering where he's coming from and where he's going, attention needs to focus on his heart — the formative spiritual and religious experiences that guide this paradoxically prophetic occupant of the most institutionally circumscribed position in the Catholic Church: the papacy.

It is paradoxical to have a prophet as an office holder in any institution. Often the best work prophets do is outside or on the margins of institutions and organizations. Here we have the most evangelical reformer in the person of the pope that the church has seen in centuries.

Yet his fixed points in the turning world of multiple challenges are the Gospel, the church and Vatican Council II. And he needs to draw on all those resources to lead the church in what he has called "not so much an era of change as a change of era."

His spirituality, his pastoral focus on the pressing and ambiguous challenges that believers face in their journeys, his reform agenda for Vatican management, his priorities among world issues — the environment and people movement especially — are all addressed by the experts La Civilta Cattolica has drawn on for contributions.

You can see the full table of contents and order by clicking here.

To subscribe to the English edition of La Civilta Cattolica click here.

Father Michael Kelly SJ is the CEO of UCAN Services.

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