“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” – St. Augustine
Before his elevation to the head of the Catholic Church, Jorge Bergoglio began as a Jesuit priest from Argentina. Since his investiture as Pope in 2013, following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis — in honor of Francis of Assisi — has become a leader of uncommon humility, exchanging the red papal slippers for plain, black shoes, and the papal palace for a simple room in the Vatican Hotel, a location which accommodates visiting clergy and lay people.
He is a leader who demonstrates extraordinary compassion. Inside the Vatican, Francis set up a clinic for the destitute.
In April 2014, “Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the ‘damage [abusive] priests have done for sexually abusing children,’ Commonweal writes (Apr. 11), “Noting that the total number of abusive priests is high, ‘obviously not compared to the number of all the priests,’ Francis reassured the audience that ‘the church is aware of this damage; it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the church.’ He promised that ‘we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed–on the contrary, we have to be even stronger.’ ”
More pastor than figurehead, Francis’ overarching message stresses working in service, one to another.
When CBS News Anchor Scott Pelley asked the pope if he will speak to Congress on immigration and the dispossessed in America, Francis responded, “I shall talk about what the Holy Spirit will inspire me to say.”
And his “dialogue,” as Francis likes to call it, did not disappoint.
Speaking on religious fundamentalism, Francis said, “We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism… But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners.”
“It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society.”
In speaking of responsibility, Francis reminds political leaders, “You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk.”
Francis speaks of the past of everyday, working Americans: “The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self-sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future. …“Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.”
“Subsidiarity,” in Catholicism “is an organizing principle [that believes] Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority.”
Francis’ speaks to those who pander to violence, fear and prejudice.
“Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. … “Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. … We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”
Francis continues to stress inclusiveness, gently reminding leaders, “Politics is… an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.”
As pastor, his homily to Congress identifies and clarifies precisely the purpose of responsible leadership.
“Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’
“This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”
He concludes with four American examples that express the better angels of our nature and challenges all of us to live out of those spiritual qualities.
“A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to ‘dream’ of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.”
“What does love look like?” Saint Augustine asks. “It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”
Francis is a man of transformation, a living vision of hope, and a humble pastor of humanity whose expression of love is something we can all aspire to.