Rome (AsiaNews) - The legacy of World Youth Days in Rio de Janeiro will be long felt in the Church and the world; not only because some 3 million young people left this glowing festive week of messages and gestures as missionaries, but also because Pope Francis, a few months after his election, has more fully revealed himself and more clearly drawn up the guidelines he intends to follow to reform the Curia and the entire Church.
Too often, too much attention has been given to the short-term outbursts of enthusiasm seen during the WYDs. On the long run, they will have had little impact on the lives of young people.
Notwithstanding the celebrations, the dancing, the laughter, the emotions, it is clear that out of the three million participants, " Many came as disciples, you all leave as missionaries," Francis said. Although only the time will tell whether this statement will be realised, it is clear that the message to the young men and women who swarmed Copacabana beach was always clear-cut and Catholic, bound to Christ and to the notion of personal responsibility in the world.
Many of those who covered the WYDs focused essentially on the easy-going relationship that existed between Francis and young people: the exchange of hats, t-shirts, hugs, smiles, jokes, pats on the sick, the kisses for children, with everything reduced to some gooey sentimentalism. Others, the more traditionalists, were shocked by the mimed Way the Cross, the rock music, the 'olá' shouted during the most sacred moments. Neither of them saw, or wanted to see, that Francis' appeal to Christ's tenderness always ended with a call to the kind of responsibility "that goes against the tide". In fact, until the last moment, he kept on telling young people, even the volunteers, that they must make "unconventional" choices by today's standards, like getting married or choosing to consecrate their life to Christ.
In so doing, Francis made it clear that feelings for the sick or the disabled stem from an encounter with the truth, and that behind mass rituals ("pagan" as some have called youth meetings), the Spirit shapes freedoms and vocations.
The way Francis relates to young people involves friendly gestures and personal quirks (exchanging hats, smiles, thumbs-up, drinking yerba mate) but he never tries to become their pal. In fact, he has encouraged young people to go beyond themselves, beyond the swamp of "illusions", to embrace the elderly as a "source of wisdom." At one point, he said that young and old are both "rejected" by modern culture and proposed an alliance between them to build the future of the world. Still, the style and content of his message are showing more and more a man without prejudice than a domineering pontiff, silent on key issues of faith and morality.
During the Vigil on 28 July in Copacabana, young people focused on Saint Francis, the most used and misused saint in the world (as an environmentalist, a pacifist, a Catholic Peter Pan). However, of all that can be said about Saint Francis, the pope chose to remember what the Lord told him: "Francis, go rebuild my Church!"
During the Vigil (and when he addressed the bishops present for the WYDs), he also kept on citing the Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, a nun known for her traditionalism (which she expressed through rosaries, Eucharistic adorations, fasting, and more), in order to push young people to respond quickly to the appeal of mission and bring Christ to the "suburbs of existence" and the places of suffering.
Whenever Francis moves, he comes under close scrutiny, with many a commentator trying to figure out if he is 'left-wing' or 'right-wing', 'progressive' or 'conservative'. In reality, these words no longer matter. The time for conceptual labelling is long past, and Francis is showing a new way of living and belonging to the Church.
A few weeks ago, during a celebration of life in the Year of Faith, some people were taken aback because he did not mention the words "abortion" or "euthanasia". Yet, yesterday, during the final Mass of World Youth Days, he had, among the "offerings" presented to the altar, a child born with anencephaly, i.e. without a proper brain. In spite of a condition that usually leads to death soon after birth, the girl is alive. Although they could have chosen an abortion, which the law allows in such circumstances, the child's parents, whom the Pope had met the day before, decided to bring the pregnancy to term. When they walked to the altar, they wore a T-shirt with an anti-abortion slogan.
This pope makes speeches, but knows the eloquence of facts, of signs. He knows that, in our day and age, speeches can be manipulated until they become ideologies. Facts instead refer to reality, and signs to deeper realities.
Many people wonder how Francis will reform the Roman Curia. In Rio, he has already laid down a path for Church reform. He did so referring to Aparecida, the Virgin patroness of Brazil, as well as the 2007 paper by the Latin American Bishops' Conference (CELAM), which he drafted.
In his meeting with Latin American bishops, especially in the one with the bishops of Brazil (which was unfortunately left unpublished), he mentioned his struggle against clericalism, self-reference, rationalism, as well as his support for the contributions made of lay men and women ("By losing women, the Church risks becoming sterile", he said).
Hearing this, some people might already be rubbing their hands in glee, thinking that this means the victory of liberation theology against Card Ratzinger, the "inquisitor". That could not be farther from the truth. Indeed, Francis cited Benedict XVI as one of the initiators of the meeting in Aparecida.
Among the Church's flaws, he cited its "sociological reductionism" and its "interpretative claim based on a hermeneutics drawn from the social sciences." He spoke of a church tempted by the "Pelagian solution". Noting that "In dealing with the Church's problems, a purely disciplinary solution is sought, through the restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful."
In Latin America, Brazil, and elsewhere, both approaches have ignored the "revolution of tenderness" brought by the incarnation of the Word." For him, "There are pastoral plans designed with such a dose of distance that they are incapable of sparking an encounter: an encounter with Jesus Christ, an encounter with our brothers and sisters."
When he met Brazilian political leaders, Francis stressed the importance of a "culture of encounter", which, for him, is a theological concept. This pope is characterised by a desire, a drive to do everything to make people encounter Jesus Christ and rescue Christ from the cowardice of ideologically-driven Christians.
Such tensions underlie the reform of the Church. "The Church," he told the bishops, "is an institution, but when she makes herself a "centre", she becomes merely functional, and slowly but surely turns into a kind of NGO. The Church then claims to have a light of her own, and she stops being that 'miterium lunae' of which the Church Fathers spoke. She becomes increasingly self-referential and loses her need to be missionary. From an 'institution', she becomes an 'enterprise'. She stops being a bride and ends up being an administrator; from being a servant, she becomes an 'inspector'. Aparecida wanted a Church that is bride, mother and servant, a facilitator of faith and not an inspector of faith."
From this stems a Copernican revolution that is changing the way priests and bishops are trained. "Bishops must be pastors, close to people, fathers and brothers, and gentle, patient and merciful. Men who love poverty, both interior poverty, as freedom before the Lord, and exterior poverty, as simplicity and austerity of life. Men who do not think and behave like "princes". Men who are not ambitious, who are married to one church without having their eyes on another. Men capable of watching over the flock entrusted to them and protecting everything that keeps it together: guarding their people out of concern for the dangers That could threaten them, but above all instilling hope: so that light will shine in people's hearts. Men capable of supporting with love and patience God's dealings with his people. The Bishop has to be among his people in three ways: in front of them, pointing the way; among them, keeping them together and preventing them from being scattered; and behind them, ensuring that no one is left behind, but also, and primarily, so that the flock itself can sniff out new paths."
And as far as bearing witness in society, he told Brazilian bishops, "there is only one thing which the Church quite clearly demands: the freedom to proclaim the Gospel in its entirety, even when it runs counter to the world, even when it goes against the tide. In so doing, she defends treasures of which she is merely the custodian, and values which she does not create but rather receives, to which she must remain faithful."