Father Enrique Sánchez, Superior General of the Comboni Missionaries, looks at the first months since Pope Francis’s election to the helm of the universal church. A missionary perspective.
Just a few months have passed since Pope Francis was elected bishop of the diocese of Rome, shepherd and guide of the whole Church. Those of us who now happen to be living in Rome have noticed, during this period, however short, a new atmosphere and a reawakening of the heart’s great desires in many Christians who wish to live of the riches of the Gospel.
There is no doubt that Pope Francis, by the way he lives, speaks, and approaches people, by the way he draws attention to certain situations and urgent problems of our world, is moving hearts. He is somehow challenging the lifestyle and behaviour of the Christians of our time, inviting them to give the reason for their faith in the Lord.
Through his words and gestures, Pope Francis outlines the features that a Christian of our time needs. He takes every opportunity to remind us that we cannot go on saying we believe in Jesus Christ while we conform our lives to the models presented by the world, with its own logic and interests.
On several occasions, we have heard him speak out strongly – using words like coherence, radicalism, trust, tenderness, love, the option for the poor… This vocabulary ought to be very familiar to us missionaries. As daily experience, not simply as a manner of speaking. Pope Francis repeated in various ways and in different tones of voice that he wants a missionary Church, at the service of the most abandoned, far from power struggles or career seeking. He wants a Church where the exercise of mercy and compassion, of goodness and love, is the foundation of the house where all human beings may find room to truly live, to be fulfilled, to enjoy communion and authentic brotherhood.
He wants a Church that is poor. A church able to show that its only real treasure is the Lord and his Word. The Church is the repository and custodian of the life of God that is offered to us every day in the celebration of the Eucharist, in the sacraments, and in the gift of our brothers and sisters who become sacraments for us of the presence of God in our midst.
Pope Francis frequently reminds us that in today’s Church we must be careful not to fall into the trap of role-playing, of becoming the reference point, of thinking that everything depends on us and that it is all a question of choosing the right strategy. No, the only leader, as he often repeats, is the Lord, who continues to walk with us, who does not abandon us or forget our needs. Also in this matter, the Holy Father reminds us that the main actor in the history of the mission of the Church is the Holy Spirit.
While reminding us of this, he has stated just as firmly that we Christians must walk with our heads held high, without triumphalism, secure and confident that we are in safe hands. We have no right to present a disfigured image of the Lord with our sadness, our uncertainties, or pessimistic views of the future. Today, more than ever, the Christian is called to witness with courage, joy, and confidence, aware that his Lord is at work, today as always.
The missionary message and the witness of the missionaries cannot be other than a joyful proposal, a message of enthusiasm, and a word of courage.
All of this awakens new hope. This becomes joy and desire to participate in Pope Francis’s proposal to live our being Christians in our everyday life. In the small details of life, in the simple gestures that allow us to recognise that we all need one another and that we cannot continue to invest our energy in the sort of society where everyone is convinced they must think of themselves, always and only of themselves.
The enthusiasm stirred by the Pope and shown by the multitudes who want to meet, see, and listen to him, speaks of the desire for God hidden in the hearts of our contemporaries. It is evidence that the humanity of our time has not lost interest in God. Today, more than ever, we are becoming aware of how deep, in all people, the issues of God, faith, and the Gospel are. It also indicates how urgent the mission is and how important it is that Christians, all Christians, assume their responsibility in proclaiming the Gospel as a first requirement of their baptism. We needed Pope Francis. He speaks to us with simplicity, he is interested in the situations of the people of our time and goes out to meet them. He reminds us that the Gospel is not just a theory or a doctrine or something amounting only to an ideology.
The Gospel is a person with whom we are invited to establish a strong and close relationship, as a condition for the authenticity of our lives. This person is none other than the Lord Jesus.
The question we are all surely asking ourselves is to know whether we shall be able to meet the challenge and accept to live out our being Christian today, aware that it is not simply a question of affirming our belonging to a group, a community, or a Church. Will we be able to live out our faith in Jesus Christ by announcing him with our lives to all who seek him today? I can think of no better way of living our missionary vocation. It seems to me that there is no other way by which we can be recognised as authentic Christians of our time.
The atmosphere we are breathing here in Rome, and which seems to us to be going beyond its walls, will certainly bear extraordinary fruit. It will be a great blessing if it succeeds in transforming itself into a new opportunity to become aware of the riches of life we bear within ourselves, the life of God who lives in those who are willing to open the doors of their hearts. This is our greatest wish.