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TEN YEARS AGO, THEY DIDN'T SEE HIM COMING.

di Maria Antonietta Calabrò



Francis the Pope of Nomadland, of the suburbs of the world and of all of us. But also of the steps of no return and the great reforms. The Vatican will never be the same again. He said, “I’m sorry if someone didn’t notice how this would end.”

The then cardinal of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, outlined the identikit of the ‘next Pope’ who would have been himself, on the last day of the General Congregations of the cardinals that preceded the Conclave that elected him, choosing for himself the name Francis. It was March 9, 2013.

‘Thinking about the next Pope,’ he had noted in the fourth and last paragraph of the short sheet of notes prepared for his speech. And then he added, asking himself, “Who? :A man who, through the contemplation of Jesus Christ and the worship of Jesus Christ, helps the Church to come out of itself to the existential suburbs, who helps her to be the fruitful mother who lives ‘of the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing’.

"The Church - we still read in that leaflet - is called to come out of itself and go to the suburbs, not only the geographical ones, but also the existential ones: those of the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, those of ignorance and the absence of faith, those of thought, those of all forms of misery".

Ten years past, this identikit constitutes the deepest balance of what Francis is. The permanent core of his legacy.

“My government program - he said in a book-interview with Argentine journalists Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti “El Pastor” published on March 1, 2023 - , is to perform what the cardinals expressed in congregations prior to the Conclave.”

The two journalists then commented, pitting the points: ‘Revitalize the proclamation of the Gospel, decrease Vatican centralism, eradicate pedophilia ...’

But then Francesco himself wanted to directly add another objective, taking the floor: "And fight economic corruption ... I'm sorry if someone didn't realize how this would end."

Being undervalued is a big plus, because they often don't see you coming.

It happened to Bergoglio, what recently happened to some women (head of government, head of state, presidents of high courts, party leaders) who finally broke the crystal glass.

Francis has come from almost the end of the world, a Jesuit who had had great problems in his own order, and was already ahead with age.

I remember the disappointment of many that evening, seeing him popping up at the Lodge of Blessings. “Is this here that has to replace the fragile Ratzinger?”

No, ten years ago, we hadn't seen him coming. Not in the sense that he would not have been the new Pope (among the right predictions also that name, Francis, the poor saint, the one called by the Crucifix to repair his Church) but that he could have done everything he did.

Bergoglio was truly an ‘underdog’, an athlete underdog in the starting blocks, even though he had been elected Pope, and who could never win any bets. He was a compromise candidate, voted on by both the Curia and the American cardinals, in addition to the Italian bloc and the diplomatic bloc. And “too much” old.

He himself had predicted that his Pontificate would last four or five years at most. And instead Francis, in his old age, like Abraham, showed a strength capable of moving mountains and restore the Sphinx (as he defined the Roman Curia ) or rather literally turn it upside down, with the Apostolic Constitution "Praedicate Evangelium" . A slow job, but the Vatican will never be the same again.

Insisting on the suburbs, on Mercy, on joy, has made him ‘the Pope of the people’ and not only of the people of God. And this too will remain, even if after the "Osanna" of Palm Sunday, the Good Friday Crucifige arrived on more than one occasion, often orchestrated by scribes and Pharisees.

The Pope of Nomadland

In reality, to be more precise, Francis is - we steal the definition from the book-investigation from which the Oscar-winning film of the Year of the Pandemic was taken - the Pope of “Nomadland”, of the land of the nomads.

“La Strada” by Federico Fellini, is the favorite film of Pope Francis. In addition to food and a home, human beings need hope. And there is hope on the road. A sense of opportunity. A deep belief that something better will happen. And there, in the next city, in the next meeting with a foreigner.

Because it is Hope, the smallest of the three sisters, of the three cardinal virtues, the one that according to Charles Peguy (ne “The mystery the Portico of the Second virtue”) carry by the hand the other two, the Faith and Charity. Because you can't not have Faith ("I fulfill so much in my Creation", says God) and Charity ("Charity says God, it doesn't surprise me... These poor creatures are so unhappy that, unless you have a heart of stone, as they might not have charity for each other" ), but to have Hope, to start again every day, you must have received a lot. "This really surprises me ... It must be because my grace really possesses an incredible strength."

“Hope” is one of the most used words by Pope Francis. And then ‘Mercy".

The most grandiose gesture of mercy for all humanity, made the figure of Francis unforgettable, three years ago, on March 27, 2020, at the cruelest moment of the pandemic, when on the wet slabs under the plumb sky, and cold, the Pope, The Fisherman (it is called the Fisherman's ring, the one that the Pope wears as soon as he is elected and that is destroyed at his death) appeared alone.

That afternoon there was a total contrast between the white of the vestments and the gray of the wet, slippery stones of the churchyard and the columns of the Basilica. There were no faithful, around, there were no pilgrims. There were no colors, there were no flowers. But anyway it was an Easter. A “passage” was consummated: from the death (physical and spiritual) inflicted by the pandemic to a life expectancy, enclosed in the glory of the gold of the monstrance and the gold of the cloth that covers the body of Christ , and on the Cross, bathed by the blood of the wounds and the streams of rain falling to the ground.

Next to it is the ancient icon of the Madonna “Salus populi romani”, the Madonna favorited by Francis, the round-trip company of his every trip. Never in history, the Urbi te Orbi blessing (to the city of Rome and to the world) with the Blessed Sacrament was accompanied by such a plenary and so extraordinary indulgence.

An indulgence for believers and non-believers that, for it to be effective, it was enough to have desired it. For the rest, it was enough Francesco to have fait for us all. It was he, who accompanied us all in prayer before the altar - as he said - ‘with the rocky faith of Peter’, the Fisherman.

Hope and Mercy

The reality for Pope Francis is better observed from the bottom rather than from the first places, it is better seen from the suburbs than from the center.

He chose to live not in the Apostolic Palace but in Casa Santa Marta, he opened to homosexuals and divorced remarried people, he put the last ones first, he used his voice in favor of the “discarded”, the out-norm: children not born because they were not wanted, underpaid women and whose motherhood is always a problem for work.

The victims of all kinds of abuse: of power, of conscience, sexual. Against pedophilia it suffered the slowdown of the curial right (with the sensational protests of the victims who had entered the pontifical Commission) until it decided in 2017 to change the summit of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In the new Constitution on the Curia (promulgated in 2022) he embeded the Commission against Child Abuse Presided over by the Cardinal of Boston (the diocese made infamous in the early 2000s by the film Spotlight) Sean O' Malley right inside the former Holy Office. In the same time he had been harnessed and also disoriented by the wall of mirrors that imposed on him over the years a ‘stop and go’ in economic reforms. Economic reforms, dozens and dozens, with new own Motu, Statutes, creation of new bodies, are now complete.

Also to Rubin and Ambrogetti: "It cannot be denied that some ecclesiastics and many, I would say, false lay 'friends' of the Church have contributed to unduly appropriating the mobile and immovable heritage, not of the Vatican, but of the faithful".

Referring then to the story of the London building, he points out that it was precisely in the Vatican that ‘the suspicious purchase’ has been revealed. ‘I rejoiced – says the Pope - because it means that today the Vatican administration has the resources to shed light on the bad things that happen inside.’

In ten years of pontificate he has made 40 international trips. He chose to entrust the meditation of the Via Crucis to some inmates, and to carry out the rite of washing the feet on Holy Thursday he left the golds of St. Peter's Basilica and went to prison himself. For the first time he washed the feet of some women. And with a surprising gesture he went to celebrate Mass in Coena Domini at the home of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, under investigation.

He called 8 conscistoris , creating 121 cardinals: the next Conclave will be almost all ‘Bergogliano’, the enemies complain.

Also a creator of neologisms, Francesco forced the Italian language to twist to follow his thought, as evidenced by the Enciclopedia Treccani. Famous is the eing of the word ‘mafiarsi’ to describe the subjection to the mafia. Or that corruption ‘spuzza".

He described the current one as the “third world war in pieces” that is, that it is being waged in many parts of the world.

The first “trip” of Pope Francis, the first trip outside the Vatican, was to the island of Lampedusa to mourn the dead migrants and support the living including the Italians who help them.

Pope Francis returns to migrants massed on the island of Lesbos in December 2021, after having been there as early as 2016.

He was among the Rohingya, in Myanmar, among the refugees from all over the Middle East in Jordan, and among the millions of displaced people in Congo and South Sudan.

In Lesbos, a few months after the colon operation, in December 2021, he explained that the drama of immigration is linked to nationalisms that close to solidarity, he said harsh words against all wall builders. A powerful, vigorous political speech that must be combined with the one held in Athens, on the same days, when the Pope wanted to pass with his car to admire the Parthenon. With how much emotion he said that the Gospel was written in Greek and that Greek is the same definition of the second Trinitarian person, that Jesus of Nazareth who is the Logos who was at the beginning of time, the Logos that is with God.

Perhaps also for this reason Francis wanted to return in March 2023 in a framework of ecumenical closeness to Orthodox Christians, some fragments of the Parthenon preserved in the Vatican Museums: not a restitution from state to state, but between Christians.

The speech of Athens

In the Athens speech the Pope pointed out that he went “pilgrim” to Greece where spirituality, culture and civilization overflow to draw on the same happiness that excited the great father of the Church St. Gregory of Nazianzo: "It was the joy of cultivating wisdom and sharing its beauty, a happiness that is not individual and isolated, but that comes from amazement, tends to infinity and opens up to the community.” “Greece – the Pope added – calls on the man of all times to orient the journey of life upwards. To God, because we need transcendence to be truly human.”

And so he continued: ‘While in the West that has arisen from here we tend to obfuscate the need for Heaven, trapped in the frenzy of a thousand earthly races by the insatiable greed of a depersonalizing consumerism, in Athens man – quoting Aristotle – has become aware of ‘being a political animal’.

And precisely in the last book-interview, El Pastor, the passages in which Francis responds to those who also within the Church have accused him for years of wanting to do more politics than testimony of the Gospel are interesting: "Yes, I do politics. Because everyone has to do politics. The Christian people have to do politics because when we read what Jesus said, we see that he was involved in politics. And what is politics? A lifestyle for the polis, for the city. What I do not do, nor should the Church do, is party politics. But the Gospel has a political dimension, which is to convert the social, as well as religious, mentality of people.'

To take back the sea

The impressive thing is that Francis points to the world and to Europe, a road and not concepts.

Francis invites everyone to do like Ulysses, an ancient migrant even if he was a rich and famous king: to put himself at sea, a rough, risky sea, a source of knowledge and pain, but which eventually brings him back to his homeland. The power of the image of the Greek hero par excellence is put at the service of the route to be taken today.

There is no alternative to taking the sea. Not just for those fleeing war and hunger.

It also means abandoning a way of thinking, it means getting out of the box, out of the box, to defuse the war and satiate hunger.

We are all migrants and that is why the refugees of Lesbos and the others beyond the barbed wire, the dead and the survivors of Cutro are our brothers, ‘brothers all’, as Francis’ Encyclical is called.












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