James Kelly SJ knows Pope Francis personally, having worked on his staff as a professor of Scripture in Buenos Aires. He reflects on Pope Francis’ impact: “I am very agreeably pleased with his papacy and full of admiration for him. I thought he would be more an administrator and director than a warm pastoral leader.”
James Kelly SJ
I am very agreeably pleased with his papacy and full of admiration for him. I thought he would be more an administrator and director than a warm pastoral leader. I could not in advance imagine the friendly manner in which he meets people. He was always outstanding – whether one agreed with him or not – and it is wonderful now that he has the opportunity to display his many gifts – especially spiritual ones. He is wise and shrewd.
An Argentinian Jesuit has written that what is most important to him is to meet others. Faith is an encounter with Jesus. We ought to do what Christ does for us – he meets us. He seems to have been influenced by what Romano Guardini has written about this: ‘There is an encounter with another person, ‘when I am struck (wounded) by a ray of his being, when I am touched by his action’. Bergoglio demands that when we give alms, we just don’t give a coin, but must look at the person in the eyes and show friendship – otherwise we have not met that person. Even when he deals at length with the need to help those in need, he calls for a more personal encounter with them. He asks for attentiveness towards them – ‘in a certain sense as one with ourselves’ (EG 199). He adds: ‘True love is always contemplative, and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but rather because he or she is beautiful above and beyond mere appearances’.
What does not surprise me is that Jorge still puts the spiritual needs of the poor first. ‘I want to say with regret that the worst discrimination that the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care’ EG 200.
I look forward to learning how Francis will deal with pressing sexual issues, like young people living together. Certainly he is not going to change any doctrine. His support for Humanae Vitae (theologically unshakable in my mind, if pastorally difficult) is a sign of this. But he will bring mercy more into play. This has always been a strong factor in Pope Francis’ religious outlook. All should learn from this and strengthen it, where it exists. There is much to be learned from the ordinary faithful people (popolo fidele). He has been very inspired by Pope Paul V1 ‘s exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi and what it says there about popular devotion and religion. Francis has huge respect for this previous Pope.
These are lines written between medical consults and procedures. In general this present Pope gives me great hope. He is fundamentally very sound. His message is: be strong spiritually, and look and move outwards. The Argentinian Jesuit puts it this way: ‘Go out of yourself to meet God in prayer and the neighbour in service’. This is a providential time for the Church.