Pope Francis’ Second Anniversary

Pope Francis appears for the first time on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 13. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (March 13, 2013)

Pope Francis appears for the first time on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (March 13, 2013)

Sitting there in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Mass celebrated with the new cardinals at the recent consistory, I was touched as Pope Francis said to us, “The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity; [but] to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart.” Then our Holy Father added words that could apply equally to all the faithful as to us cardinals, “I urge you to serve Jesus Crucified in every person who is emarginated, for whatever reason; to see the Lord in every excluded person who is hungry, thirsty, naked; to see the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith, or turned away from the practice of their faith, or say that they are atheists; to see the Lord who is imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted; to see the Lord in the leper – whether in body or soul – who encounters discrimination!”

Pope Francis is a wonderful shepherd who challenges his flock. This may explain why so many people have responded positively to the ministry of this engaging, yet humble pastor of souls, who marks the second anniversary of the beginning of his pontificate this month. More than being seen as Pope for 1.2 billion Roman Catholics across the globe, Francis is welcomed by many non-Catholics as the world’s Pope. He is a true pontiff, a builder of bridges to the secular world.

Classic Pope Francis was also on display when the first thing he did at the beginning of the Mass to create the new cardinals was go over to clasp hands with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who joined us in this Eucharistic celebration. With this simple gesture, which is made any time Pope Benedict is present, Pope Francis demonstrates his unity with his predecessor and, thus, his continuity with that unbroken line going all the way back to Saint Peter and therefore with Jesus Christ and his Gospel. This too is why so many people have rallied to him.

In fact, from the moment of the Pope’s election, before his name was even announced to the world, the crowds cheered, “Viva il Papa! (Long live the Pope!)” There was and continues to be a clear understanding of the importance of the Pope, any Pope. In Pope Francis, the 265th Successor to Peter, they recognize a visible living sign of the mission, message and tradition of the one, holy, universal and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ.

In his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), our Holy Father built upon the contributions of an earlier draft written by Pope Benedict to help us understand how Christian faith illuminates every aspect of human existence. When we encounter the love of the living God, it touches us at the core of our being, and transforms our lives with hope and joy as we make our way through life.

The Pope continued his magisterial teaching with his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), in which he calls the faithful to be Spirit-filled missionary disciples, boldly proclaiming the Good News not only in words, but in our very lives transfigured by God’s presence (259). Our Holy Father’s words burn with his longing for evangelization that is “full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction” (261).

Over and over, in his magisterial documents, homilies, addresses, letters and interviews, the Pope urges us to “go out” and meet people where they are. Dubbed “the Pope of Mercy,” Francis has announced a “Year of Mercy” to begin December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and running through November 20, 2016, the feast of Christ the King. Throughout his pontificate, he has appealed to consciences, calling the world’s attention to those on the margins of life, the poor, the vulnerable and the outcast. What is needed, he says, is nearness and proximity to those who are wounded in spiritual and material ways.

Our Holy Father invites us to build bridges, not walls, to open our arms in welcome and walk side-by-side in dialogue with others, even those who do not embrace all of the Church’s teachings. In place of a culture characterized by rampant materialism and individualism that leads to indifference if not hostility toward the weakest among us, those considered “useless,” Pope Francis never tires of calling for a culture of solidarity and fraternity which sees others not as burdens, enemies or rivals, but as brothers and sisters to be accepted and embraced. Our task is to restore everyone to the communion of God’s family.

This pastoral message is precisely what the Church and the world need today – the perennial Gospel message in new and exciting words and action that can warm the hearts of people and heal wounds. People today are hungering for mercy and transcendent truth even in the face of the pervasive emphasis on the secular and the individual. By what he does and how he does it, by what he says and how he says it, in this providential moment, Pope Francis offers a new moment of grace, outreach and renewal – not only for Catholics, but our entire human family, each of us a precious child of God.

In his homily at the first Mass he celebrated as pontiff, Pope Francis spoke of our being on a journey, a journey of love, being sure that we are walking always in the presence of the Lord, in the light of the Lord, continuing to build up the Church, and professing always Jesus Christ Crucified. This is what Lent is – a journey on the way to the Paschal Mystery and the pledge of life everlasting. As we make this pilgrimage on the second anniversary of his pontificate, let us offer thanks to God for our Holy Father Pope Francis.