March 13, 2018

Looking back at the last five years with Pope Francis

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer *
Credit: Unsplash
Credit: Unsplash

This week marks the 5th anniversary of the pontificate of Pope Francis. He has surprised the Church – and the rest of the world – with his spontaneity and substance. 

Reminiscent of the ever-present Saint Pope John Paul II, who visited a whopping 129 countries over the span of 25 years, Pope Francis has visited 34 countries to date. Francis' visits have revitalized the Church in many predominantly-Catholic countries plagued by growing secularism. Now, globe-trotting is not the measure of prowess in the papacy (just look at the less-traveled, but incredibly profound influence of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), but it does reflect the 81-year-old pontiff's commitment to attend to the Church's faithful across the four corners of the world – including those on its social peripheries. 

Pope Francis has also been present to souls who have not had the privilege of an audience with the Holy Father or the chance to greet him in their home countries. With a Twitter account boasting almost 17 million followers and the Pope video to disseminate his monthly intentions, Francis is a tech-aware spiritual guide to an estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.     

Most compelling during these five years is the echo Pope Francis has given as the Vicar of Christ to two of Jesus' central teachings – mercy and love.   

Francis' first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelil Gaudium, was an impressive novel-length commentary on the Catholic Church’s new evangelization. When presenting the text, Archbishop Fisichella explained: “The cement binding the themes of the exhortation together is the merciful love of God which goes forth to meet every person in order to manifest the heart of his revelation: The life of every person acquires meaning in the encounter with Jesus Christ and in the joy of sharing this experience of love with others.” 

Pope Francis also invited Catholics to be witnesses to the mystery of God's mercy by declaring 2016 an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. And this witness was to be a two-way street. The Holy Father offered the faithful the chance to “wipe the slate clean” through plenary indulgences and a general wake-up call to the sacrament of confession. The pope also encouraged Catholics to be instruments of God's mercy through an increased attention to and exercise of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  

And the Holy Father has moved the discussion of marriage and the family forward with the publication of his 2016 Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The 256-page letter was an anxiously anticipated summation of two synods and the Pope's own considerations offered “as an aid to reflection, dialogue and pastoral practice, and as a help and encouragement to families in their daily commitments and challenges.” Amoris' opening sentence profoundly notes, “The joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.” 

While concerns by members of the Magisterium over the proper understanding of some of the points in Amoris are being assessed, ignoring Amoris altogether withholds needed direction to the faithful during a particularly turbulent time. Much as the disciples with time, reflection and light from on High were able to appreciate Christ's encounter with the woman at the well, prudential attention to Amoris will enhance pastoral care for marriage and the family. 

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, is a leading American prelate offering such attention. The cardinal recently published a guide for implementing Amoris entitled Sharing in the Joy of Love in Marriage and Family. Wuerl's Amoris guide identifies the exhortation's three basic principles: fidelity to the received tradition, respect for individual conscience, and accompaniment. According to the prelate, "The rule to follow in all cases, the Pope makes clear, is the love and mercy of the Lord." 

Just as the five-year marker of Francis' pontificate was to be reached, the Holy Father added the memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church to the liturgical calendar. By directing attention to Our Lady's maternal care over each and every member of the Mystical Body of her Son, the Pope's catechesis on mercy and love is perfectly entrusted.

Pope Francis has reached Catholics and non-Catholics across the world with his engaging personality and indefatigable care. Drawing attention to Christ's message of mercy and love has been a wonderful fruit of his papacy so far.       

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is Legal Advisor for The Catholic Association Foundation. Her legal career has been dedicated to civil rights advocacy.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.