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Cork Lives
The countdown is on for the visit of Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families.
The countdown is on for the visit of Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families.

Why I will be proud to welcome Pope Francis

TO open the windows – to let in fresh air: that was the result that people hoped for from the last great worldwide meeting of church representatives 50 years ago, the Second Vatican Council.

What they longed for was a broader perspectives, a new horizon of hope. And Pope Francis has been in a position to offer something of the kind since the day he became pontiff.

On the day of his election, this Argentine told the Roman crowds: “The electors have had to go ‘to the ends of the earth’ to find you a bishop.”

Immediately, people were excited by the hope of being caught up in a new, broader vision of Christianity for today.

Pope Francis belongs to the same Religious Order — or grouping of vowed priests and brothers — as myself : the Jesuits (Society Of Jesus, or ‘SJ’ for short — one little company or ‘society’ of followers of Jesus).

On his official journeys outside of Europe, he has been generous in giving time to gatherings of fellow Jesuits — dropping in on communities unannounced, or taking question-and-answer sessions.

But his Irish visit this weekend is different —touching down for just 36 hours to honour the world Meeting Of Families, and already chock-ful of other appointments. So, most Irish Jesuits soon more or less gave up on any hope of a session with the Pope for themselves — barring some unforeseen development. However, fingers crossed... watch this space!

To have a Jesuit Pope is ironic — since the Order’s founder fought the Popes of his day tooth-and-nail against having Jesuits appointed bishops! (These appointments do sometimes occur in ‘foreign missions’ territory, but are otherwise quite exceptional).

Jesuit founder Ignatius Loyola held that the main function of his new Order was mobility —to be available for work in any region or pastoral situation which was strategically important (for the spread of the Message — in Jesus’s words, ‘to the ends of the earth’). He believed that structural responsibility for any one area would only tie down the members of his Order.

If I myself did get an opportunity to speak to the Pope, what I would say would go something like this:

“Pope Francis, three years ago you addressed the world Meeting Of Families in Philadelphia. And to bishops you gave this advice: ‘Be ready to waste time with families’… Now, I’m not a bishop — but my assignment from my Order is to work for the family-situation in an experimental way outside of the normal structures. In a parish, I make the offer to seasonally visit families where the parents are interested (so I only make an approach to a parish-district where the children have not yet left home)… Am I not doing what the Lord told Francis of Assisi to do — when that Saint (the Pope’s heavenly ‘patron’ or protector) heard him say, ‘Re-build my church’?”

In this legendary dream, the Lord was pointing to a torn-down church building that represented a church community which had fallen victim to neglect and oppression.

However, I do believe that the command, ‘Re-build my church’, can in our day also mean: ‘Make sure that my church community continues to grow’. In other words, ‘Give your attention to the future — to the young — to families’.

It’s so unfortunate that the spotlight at the moment on families and the church is so exclusively focused on clerical child sexual abuse — and is so prejudiced towards pessimism rather than optimism. Certainly, there are still church officials who believe that investigation can be done ‘in-house’ — even if the law demands intervention by civic authorities.

But as regards the Pennsylvania dioceses’ report, I’ve noticed only one single mention in the media of the following observation by the authors of the report themselves: They point out that, as a result of measures implemented by church officials, those abuse problems have been practically eradicated for 16 years now, or for half a generation. In other words, the way has been found to cure the disease; and the widespread abuse there — even if some facilitators of it and some perpetrators are still living — has been consigned to history…

However, is this particular finding considered too ‘hopeful’ to be allowed to even surface in today’s discussions?

The abuse issue — crucial as it is — has the effect of taking the emphasis off the more wide-ranging problem of the less than textbook-ideal support of children: Far too many young people worldwide are being deprived of the opportunity to grow up in an intact family. In Ireland’s neighbouring island, for instance, the chances of a mid-teenager still having both parents living in the home are as low as almost 50%.

When addressing a World Meeting Of Families — Irish or British or other — I believe that Pope Francis should focus attention on this situation — and should emphasise the need for ‘commitment’ as something which brings hope to relationships.

Already, learning from his contacts with both the poorer regions of the world and with the wealthier, he has spoken about a typical young couple’s fear of commitment today: Some feel that they lack the material resources to begin a formal commitment to one another; while others put off commitment, pending a rise on the promotional ladder at work.

It’s because of his global ‘reach’ that Pope Francis is able to draw on a wide horizon of experience — and that’s why I’m looking forward to hearing him speak in Ireland this weekend.