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A new-found freedom

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“It has been a good year as a parish priest. People are more joyful about the church. They feel their remarried and gay children are not being rejected. They feel that mercy is bigger than any sin, guilt or religiosity. And that message needs more and more expression.” So write Donal Neary SJ, PP of Gardiner St Church Dublin, in his reflection on Pope Francis’ first year as pope.

A New Found Freedom

Donal Neary SJ

A lovely feeling of joy and of freedom came over me when Pope Francis arrived on that balcony a year ago, asked everyone to pray for him and then wished them a blessing and a good supper. Something new was happening. The holy Spirit almost seemed to come on him in his liveliness and simplicity from the fist moment. I think I got a bit of that Spirit that night, and the feeling has never left – a good Ignatian test of its reality.

Since then I have been encouraged by his many talks, and gestures. I never thought the WYD would be so good.  I liked many gestures – paying his own bill, the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, the embrace of the sick man in St Peter’s Square, , the offering of the beach ball from Rio to Mary; his talks to the Brazilian bishops on his Emmaus vision of the church, his great talk to the Religious Superiors,  and his many challenges to priests and religious.

For years I knew  it was right to welcome everyone to the church and to expand our view of the Eucharist. His image of the field hospital resonates with my view of the church. I am glad that the very tight and heavy religiosity of the church is being challenged, and particularly its clericalism.

It has been a good year as a parish priest. People are more joyful about the church. They feel their remarried and gay children are not being rejected. They feel that mercy is bigger than any sin, guilt or religiosity, and that message needs more and more expression.

I hope for  a few  things – the continuation of reform of church structures that has begun well; I hope for the appointment of bishops after Pope Francis’ style,  and I hope he will be more proactive soon about child abuse, particularly in overseeing good local practice.

It’s been a good year pastorally; in churches and outside. Teachers have remarked on a new freedom to talk about faith and the church in staff-rooms.  His consultation on the Synod ended with a question after every section asking what a parish was doing pastorally for people in varied types of relationships. A good way of saying – I can’t do it all.  The new spirit is blowing well – it’s up to each of us in life and ministry to ensure it brings the essentials of our gospel to life, relationships  and the huge needs of poverty in our world.