Pope Francis: A walking witness
Pope Francis, as a Jesuit, is steeped in the Spirituality of St. Ignatius which is a spirituality of love expressed in mission and service. In his Spiritual Exercises Ignatius highlights that “love is expressed more in deeds than in words.” Love of God must be expressed in love for all that God loves and in partnering with God to bring about God’s desires for our world. Following the release of his encyclical Laudato Si’ Francis is making a pastoral visit to three countries in his home continent, South America. He is bringing the message contained in that document in a way that is both challenging and consoling. His concerns for the poor, for those on the margins; for creation and for reconciliation are given powerful witness in this visit.
The way in which he is doing this sends a powerful message to the whole world as to what Francis sees as important. The very choice of Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay which are among the poorest and most marginal countries is significant. Francis’s concern is for the peripheries. Just before he left Rome he said he wanted ‘’to bring a message of hope and joy to all, especially the neediest, the elderly, the sick, those in prison and the poor and all who are victims of this ‘throwaway culture,’” He is to visit a Bolivian prison, a shantytown in Paraguay and to meet with grassroots people. There is a powerful photo of Francis embracing an elderly woman in Ecuador. She later said: “God’s embrace must be similar to this.”
He is visiting countries which highlight issues addressed in the Encyclical which called for a new model that rejects a profit-at-all-costs way of thinking in favour of a Christian view of economic progress respectful of human rights and which safeguards the environment. Ecuador is a Pacific nation with one of the world’s most stunning species-diverse ecosystems, but it is also an OPEC country heavily dependent on oil and with widespread income inequalities. Francis met with President Rafael Correa and is likely to have raised environmental concerns given the President’s support of mining and oil drilling in wilderness areas. Bolivia and Paraguay also have vast natural resources but deforestation and water pollution are destroying the natural environment.
Part of what makes this visit so powerful is that it is a vivid living out of what is contained in the Encyclical. There is no gap between what Francis says and does. This is something extremely rare and powerful in leadership. He is modelling for us how to live the values he is challenging us to live more deeply. That this is a yearning of the human spirit is evident in the millions who are being drawn to travel great distances to get a glimpse of him. They, and we, are challenged not only by what he has to say, but by the witness of his person to the values of the Kingdom.
Want to know more about the Ignatian Spirituality of Pope Francis? Come to the Jesuit Institute Ignatian Day next Sat 18th July. For more info contact Margaret Backwell at firstname.lastname@example.org