"Father, what do you think of Pope Francis?" is a question that so many people ask me in unexpected places in the course of my continual travel for my mission in Family Rosary International. For my part I usually turn the question right around and say, "tell me what you think", as I want to hear from them, and this generates a more fruitful conversation. There is something vibrant and refreshing in his presence that, as people try to articulate what it is, they realize comes from his humility, openness and care for others. People know it is genuine, so his own courageous authenticity speaks the truth of God's message of Mercy with which he has been entrusted.
What do I think of Pope Francis? I am inspired - yet I am also very challenged! All of us who are trying to follow Christ should be! I find it remarkable how Pope Francis has a way of touching what have seemed to be divergent groups in the Church, moving them by the message of God's infinite Mercy yet at the same time calling each to see where they have been blind so that together we can become more and more a united Church in Mission.
I ponder where he is leading us.
Recently I was able to attend a Conference and Pilgrimage at the Guadalupe Shrine in Mexico City: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Star of the New Evangelization on the American Continent. Convoked by the Pontifical Council for Latin America and sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, the meeting drew together about 300 people from all over America, North and South. Present were maybe ten cardinals and about 100 bishops and then leaders and representatives from a wide variety of organizations concerned with evangelization, particularly in dioceses, schools, the family, and media.
The topic was New Evangelization on the American Continent and there were some talented people there to address it. It was a continuation of a similar meeting in Rome a year ago but there was something quite distinct this year: Francis. Though he couldn't be there in person he recorded a 15 minute video address for us. At the beginning of the video when he said how much he wished he could be with us, we knew he meant it. We could feel his warmth. We could also feel the urgency a response to his call to all TO BE A MISSIONARY CHURCH.
As the Pope presents beautifully in his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, he insists that the Church must truly realize her missionary essence and vocation in everything she does and how she does it. "A Church which 'goes forth' is a Church whose doors are open… reaching out to the fringes of humanity… The Church is called to be the House of the Father… above all for the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, 'those who cannot repay you'". (Evangelii Gaudium #46).
It was remarkable to see the bishops and all present clearly challenged by him, as he said frankly that we must renounce clericalism and elitism. Pastors should "smell like their sheep". Yet for the challenges of evangelization today we need to be very well prepared with creativity and skill. Perhaps the fundamental challenge is that we must be at once both disciples and missionaries. We need hearts deeply rooted and fixed on the Lord in holiness and prayer, and we must be people of effective action.
For us in Holy Cross, Blessed Basil Moreau models this precisely. The community he founded was to be missionary in a world just beginning to see the unfolding of the secularist materialism that now seems omnipresent. That has continued to be our call and our charism. In honesty I know it will be a great benefit for me and the ministry in which I am privileged to serve if I now take seriously the challenge of renewal that Pope Francis is presenting to us all.
Pope Francis told the participants of the Conference: "Make the name of Jesus known." Father Moreau wrote: "Make Jesus known, loved and served." The Pope said that we WILL be successful "because Jesus and us have the same Mother".
Fr. Jim Phalan, C.S.C., is the Director of Family Rosary International, which is a part of Holy Cross Family Ministries. HCFM was founded by Servant of God Patrick Peyton, a Holy Cross priest who had a special devotion to the Blessed Mother and preached that the "family that prays together, stays together." Fr. Phalan will be writing for the Spes Unica Blog each month to share with us the great work of Family Rosary International, yet Family Ministries is one of the creative ways that Holy Cross continues to reach across borders of every sort to spread hope. Learn more about the missionary work of Holy Cross.