We asked some bishops, local priests, and missionaries around Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, about their expectations from a Pope coming from the world’s south.
A struggle for democracy and freedom, communion with the poor and the defenceless, commitment to dialogue among faiths and ethnic communities: this should be the basis of Pope Francis’s relationship with the African Churches, according to some Bishops and religious in this continent.
Monsignor Matthew Hassan Kukah, Bishop of the Nigerian diocese of Sokoto, said that the new Pontiff will have to guarantee above all “the moral support of the Universal Church” to the Bishops and populations of Africa, which is on a path of growth. “As emphasized in 2009 by the Second African Synod, in the continent democracy, spaces of freedom, and dialogue among religious and ethnic communities are primary issues”, said Monsignor Kukah.
The Bishop expressed hope that the new Pope will develop a “more critical view on social injustice and the erosion of human dignity.” This also refers to the continuing attacks and repression in North Nigeria, today among the most difficult areas of the continent. “The poor are not only the ones without money, but also – and maybe above all – those not able to defend themselves”, explained Bishop Kukah.
“The choice of the name Francis draws hope that the Saint of Assisi will become the model of a papacy focused on the poor and destitute,” said Monsignor Anthony Ireri Makobo, Apostolic Vicar of the Kenyan diocese of Isiolo. The Apostolic Vicar expressed joy over the choice of Pontiff from the world’s South, and in particular Latin America. “The Church of South America is full of life, just like the one in Africa,” stressed Monsignor Makobo.
“We thank the Lord for the new pastor, we pray that he succeeds in his mission, very similar to ours here in Ivory Coast: brotherhood and peaceful coexistence with other faiths require a gesture of openness on the part of the universal Church” said the Bishop of the Archdiocese of Korhogo Bishop Marie-Daniel Dadiet. “The first words and the first acts of Pope Francis are encouraging signs of the path he wants to follow, being close to all – the great and the little, the powerful and the weak – and encouraging the faithful to open themselves to others.”
“We expect that the new Pope will stress Interreligious dialogue, which is an opportunity for the Catholic Church and all other monotheistic religions to get to know each other in mutual respect, establishing good relations of brotherhood, understanding and friendliness. These are needed more than ever in today’s world,” insisted the bishop
This new Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is the first from Latin America, from the Jesuit order, and the first to take the name of Francis.
“We’re happy because we have a new Pope and because the choice of a Latin American shows that the Church is opening, is now focused on the entire world. It’s not just a church focused on Europe. Pope Francis will revitalize the Church in its mission of making disciples in all nations. We are waiting for him here in Brazil for the Youth Day in July.” According to José María Aracendo, president of the Episcopal Conference of Argentina, the new Pope “will deepen the space of evangelizing and the nearness of the Church to the people and their problems. Pope Francis will give new strength to a missionary Church at the service of mankind”. The hope of a phase characterized by “fraternal missionary work” was expressed also by Monsignor Jorge Lozano, Archbishop of the Argentine city of Gualeguachú.
Fr. Benedict Joseph, spokesman for the Episcopal Conference of Sri Lanka, hopes that Pope Francis will focus on missionary work. “We are happy for Latin America, but also for Asia and the entire Universal Church, now called to face the world’s challenges with a different spirit,” said Fr. Joseph. The need to revive the Church, according to the Episcopal Conference spokesman, is made more pressing by the uncertainty of the administration of the Vatican government. “The choice of a non-Italian Cardinal, who doesn’t come from the Curia, raises hopes for a pontificate open to the world like never before.”
From Jerusalem, through the site of the Custody of the Holy Land, the Custodian Pierbattista Pizzaballa OFM, didn’t hide his surprise: “I was very surprised when I heard the name. I wasn’t expecting it and I was shocked. A day earlier, I was speaking about it with the Apostolic Nuncio in Jordan, who hoped that the new Pope would take a name such as Joseph or Francis, as a prophetic gesture for the future. And it happened. I feel that there is a plan in this name.”
The future of Christians in the Middle East is among the most delicate issues that the new Pontiff will have to address. “In this sense, I believe that the election of the Pope was seen as a sign of peace and hope in charity. The Pope belongs to everyone, especially those suffering,” said Monsignor Jean Benjamin Sleiman, the Latin Archbishop of Baghdad.
In Iraq, the election of Pope Francis “was an important event for the Chaldean Church, Middle East Christians, and the countries that went through the Arab spring” because his witness “will direct and guide people from the winter to a true spring,” said His Beatitude Mar Louis Raphael I Sako, Patriarch of Iraq’s Chaldean Church.
According to him, the violence and hardship endured by Argentina in the recent past, including the years under a murderous military dictatorship, are a fundamental part of the new pontiff’s upbringing. “It is a positive aspect, because he personally experienced these times and will thus be able to encourage people to believe in change, and not give in to desperation and discouragement,” the Patriarch explained.
For Patriarch Sako, the Jesuit pope has already given new life to mission. “He has demonstrated that the Church’s universality is not limited to one country, language, or ethnic group, that it is open-minded, an evidence of the greatness of serving the Gospel.”
Catholics in mainland China hope that Pope Francis will help establish Sino-Vatican relations and visit China some day. This wish was not fulfilled by previous popes, but some – and among them a priest in the northern Hebei province – even warned the pontiff not to compromise with atheists and Communist authorities, hoping that the new Pope will care about the clandestine Church, especially with regard to the appointment of bishops.
The priest also hoped the Pope would be cautious with those Holy See officials leaning towards “compromise” with Beijing authorities because such a compromise would deepen the wounds of Catholics in China and widen the rifts between them.
A nun, who had studied abroad, said that the Pope will help improve Sino-Vatican relations and the development of the Church in China. “The appointment of bishops can be resolved in a better way, not an extreme one. Catholics in China might increase their collaboration and exchange with Church organizations in different countries,” she observed. Therefore, the official and clandestine Church communities in China can be gradually united.
As Pope Francis is well known for his simple lifestyle, Catholics in China hope his leadership will help the Church, including the Catholic clergy and sisters in China, not to succumb to secularization and to strengthen their spiritual life.
“This will help the training of Catholics in China since the moral life of some priests and sisters in China is poor. The pope’s simplicity of life will influence the Church,” a sister said.
“I really hope the Holy Father will care for the little flock in mainland China,” a laywoman in eastern China said, “we are like a feeble limb of Jesus Christ.”