The Vatican

The 9 "bets" of Pope Francis

Pope Francis celebrates nine years of pontificate at the head of the Church. Nine years that make us review the nine challenges that the Pope has faced since his departure to St. Peter's Square. On Saturday, March 19, we celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of his pontificate. 

Giovanni Tridente-March 17, 2022-Reading time: 6 minutes
pope francisco

Photo: ©2022 Catholic News Service / U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

On Saturday, March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, we entered the tenth year of Pope Francis' pontificate. For this reason, analysts of Church affairs are repeating more or less exhaustive evaluations of what the election of a Pope "who has come almost from the end of the world" has meant in these years.

Nine years is not a long time in the history of the Church and for the trajectory of a pontificate: one need only think of the long reign of St. John Paul II, which lasted almost 27 years, to cite an example close to us. But neither is it a short time when compared to the accelerated flow of the contemporary era, in which events and discoveries follow one after the other and in which the mastery of communication further expands the narrative of what is happening.

Rather than making a detailed account of how many things this Pope has done to date, we want to summarize what we believe are the "bets" on which Pope Francis has bet from the beginning, faithful to his motto: "We must initiate processes rather than occupy spaces". Obviously, these are general themes, but if analyzed carefully, all of them were already "in germ" in his first interventions, beginning with his greeting to the crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square on the day of his election. The homily at the first Mass with the College of Cardinals, the day after his election, and the Mass at the beginning of his pontificate should also be taken into account.

From this set of "initial shoots", around which the entire trajectory and mission of the current Bishop of Rome has been built, we can extract, therefore, 9 "bets", to keep the reference to the completed years of the pontificate.


The first issue on which Pope Francis has placed his bets, and on which he has made the whole of Christianity bet, is the theme of fraternity. A theme that is exactly in the first address to the faithful in St. Peter's Square and then crowned by the important signing of the Abu Dhabi Document together with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyeb in 2019. The following year, the Pope addressed his third encyclical, Fratelli tuttito the whole Church. In these very days we are perceiving how prophetic that commitment to fraternity was: to set the Church on the path that must lead to world peace. We still have to insist with prayer, since the process, unfortunately, is not yet complete.


The second challenge is that of mercy. It is no coincidence that it comes from his episcopal motto -Miserando atque eligendo- and that refers, as he himself has repeatedly said, to his conversion and priestly vocation. A merciful Church is one that is close to all her children who are "lost" for whatever reason. It was at the first Mass in the parish of St. Anne, in Vatican territory, on the Sunday following his election, that Francis spoke of this particular attitude of Jesus, his strongest message, inviting the faithful to entrust themselves to Him. It was also the first time the Pope said: "The Lord never tires of forgiving: never! It is we who tire of asking Him for forgiveness." In 2016, he proclaimed the "Jubilee of Mercy" across the board in all the dioceses of the world, and set an example through "Fridays of Mercy," visiting places and people living personal dramas. The World Day of the Poor was the concrete result of the Jubilee, aware that mercy is not a parenthesis in the life of the Church.


The third challenge also refers to the Mass at the beginning of the pontificate and refers to the exercise of guardianship, following the example of St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church. It is a vocation to which the whole Church must look, listening to God, allowing herself to be guided by his will, being sensitive to the people entrusted to her, attentive to her surroundings and capable of making the wisest decisions. Of course, there is no stewardship without considering that Christ must be at the center of this attitude. He is the example from which we can draw inspiration to care for ourselves, for others and for all creation. It is precisely this last point that recalls all the dynamism that gave rise in 2015 to the Encyclical. Laudato si' and to the numerous initiatives around the world that followed. The Synod on Amazonia and the fruits of the Dear Amazonia should also be included in this challenge.

Tenderness with joy

"We must not be afraid of kindness, of tenderness!which are exactly the index of a correct "correct", "correct" and "correct".care", of "strength of spirit and capacity for attentiveness, compassion, true openness to others, capacity for love"Pope Francis said again at the Mass at the beginning of his pontificate: it is the fourth commitment. This is a theme that the Pontiff has constantly repeated over the years, precisely in order to set in motion the process of a Church that is close to others, that does not judge, that welcomes, accompanies, heals wounds, sets hearts on fire and, while doing so, rejoices fully in the richness it has discovered and gives to others.


The challenge of the "periphery" is also a concept that has been present since the beginning of the Pontificate. And by it the Pope identifies two complementary meanings: the geographical - the most remote places in the world, hidden from the mainstream, where there are wars, hunger, poverty and general attacks on human dignity - and the existential, where the sufferings of the human heart are at play, along with the many frailties and lonelinesses. The Pope has chosen to make himself present in the geographical peripheries through his apostolic journeys; in the existential peripheries he has made himself present by calling the whole Church to an attitude of openness and "going out", to intercept the unspoken questions of the human soul, far from moralisms and exacerbated dogmatisms that end up annihilating any hint of conversion.


Pope Francis' other bet is on young people, not the future but the "present of the Church", "the now of God" as he has reiterated on several occasions. Here too he dedicated a specific Synod to them, in 2018, which resulted in the Apostolic Exhortation Christus vivit. Faced with the desires, crises and wounds of young people, the Pope proposes "a way out" and that is to learn not to let hope and joy be stolen and to consider one's stage of life as a time of "generous giving, of sincere offering, of sacrifices that cost money but make us fruitful". All this is not possible without roots, and for every young person they are in those who have gone before him. Hence the following challenge.


Francis often quotes the Argentine poet and writer Francisco Luis Bernárdez: "Everything that the tree that blooms has comes from what is buried". The aim was to reiterate the importance of dialogue between young people and their grandparents, the elders, without which "history does not go on, life does not go on". The transmission of experiences between generations is the most fruitful way to preserve the world not only from hatred but also from waste. The pontiff has not failed to denounce the many situations of waste, which can only be overcome through closeness and mutual knowledge between young and old. In this regard, the idea of establishing a World Grandparents' Day, set as of 2021 on the fourth Sunday of July, is significant.


Another challenge is the commitment of women in the Church. Not so much as an initiative to justify years of apparent marginalization or to satisfy more or less insistent demands. The Pope is aware that the contribution of women is fundamental and is an enrichment that must also be made stable. There are many examples of openness, certainly to encourage us to consider this issue as irreversible. Among them is that of allowing women access to the ministries of Lector and Acolyte, insofar as they are lay women and are baptized. Or the appointment of women or religious to high positions in the Roman Curia. Significant is the appointment of the first "mother synodal," Sister Nathalie Becquart, who will be seen working at the 2023 Assembly. Also significant is the fact that female Vatican employees have been allowed to accompany the Wednesday general audiences, which until now were the absolute prerogative of the monsignors of the Curia.


This "review" of the stakes would not be complete without a reference to the theme of hospitality, an approach that is symbolically very evident in the case of migrants and refugees, but which substantially expresses an attitude and a dynamism that according to Pope Francis must also be directed to all situations of marginalization and suffering, the so-called "last ones" that society discards and pushes away. Also on this theme there is an evident reference to the beginning of his pontificate, in particular to one of the first morning meditations in the chapel of Casa Santa Marta dedicated precisely to Christian hospitality.


These are the nine commitments, which symbolically recall the nine years of his pontificate, but there is one that encompasses them all, and it has to do with Christ. It is enough to go through them to identify in each one the unique root for which it is worthwhile to put them into action: we are brothers in Christ, children of the same Father; the mercy that we must learn and transmit was shown to us by Jesus even to the extreme sacrifice of the Cross; without our gaze fixed on the Son of God it is impossible to take care of others and of creation; even less so to experience and spread tenderness and joy. Without a living relationship with Christ we would forget the discarded of the geographical and existential peripheries and we would not know how to offer young people the only reason why it is worth fighting for in this world. By virtue of baptism we understand how fundamental the role of women is for the evangelizing mission and how welcoming is the primary characteristic of anyone who professes to be truly Christian.

Best wishes, then, to Pope Francis, to the whole Church, and may these processes be consolidated as the living face of Christ in the world.

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