Pope Francis speaks in Florence’s Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiori during the Fifth National Convention of the Italian Church. – AP
Pope Francis was speaking in Florence at a meeting of the Fifth National Convention of the Italian Church. In a programmatic speech, Pope Francis laid out his vision for “a new humanism in Christ Jesus.”
The Holy Father said humanism should take its starting point from “the centrality of Jesus,” in whom we discover “the features of the authentic face of man.” His reflection took its starting point from the passage from St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.” What is this attitude? the Pope asked. He suggested three specific traits: humility, disinterest, and happiness (It: beatitudine).
With regard to humility, the Pope said we should pursue the glory of God, and not our own. “The glory of God that blazes in the humility of the cave of Bethlehem or in the dishonour of the Cross of Christ always surprises us.” Disinterest is seen in the quote from Philippians, which speaks of “each one looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others.” A Christian’s humanity, he said, is not narcissistic or self-centred, but always goes out to others, which leads us always to work and to fight to make the world a better place. Finally, a Christian is happy (It: beato) because he has within him the joy of the Gospel. Jesus shows us the path to happiness in the Beatitudes, which “begin with a blessing, and end with the promise of consolation.”
These three traits, the Pope said, show that the Church must not be obsessed with power, even if it seems as though power would be useful. “If the Church does not take up the attitude of Jesus, it is disoriented, and loses its senses.”
Pope Francis acknowledged the temptations the Church faces, mentioning two in particular: Pelagianism and Gnosticism. “Pelagianism leads us to have faith in structures, in organizations, in plans that are perfect because they are abstract.” The reform of the Church does not mean simply coming up with yet another plan to change structures, but instead means “being grafted onto and rooted in Christ, [the Church] allowing herself to be lead by the Spirit.”
Another temptation, Gnosticism, “leads to trusting in logical and clear reasoning, which, however, loses the tenderness of the flesh of the brother.” The fascination with Gnosticism, he said, “is that of “a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings.”
The Pope noted that Italy has many great saints, such as St Francis of Assisi and St Philip Neri, whose example can help people live the faith with humility, disinterest, and joy. He also gave the example of Don Camillo, a famous Italian literary character. The Pope said he was struck at how the fictional priest always united “the prayer of a good pastor” with the evident closeness to his people.
Pope Francis also had specific recommendations for his audience. He encouraged Bishops to always be pastors, saying, “This will be your joy.” He spoke, too, about the importance of the “social inclusion” of the less fortunate, recalling the teaching of St John Paul II and Benedict XVI on the doctrine of the preferential option for the poor.
He also called on the Italian Church to avoid being concerned with power, with its own image, with money. “Evangelical poverty,” he said, “is creative, welcoming, supportive, and rich in hope.”
“I recommend to you also, in a special way, the capacity for dialogue and encounter,” the Pope said. The best way to dialogue, he said, is not simply by discussing and talking together, but by working together with all men and women of good will. He also encouraged young people to overcome apathy, to become “builders of Italy, to put [themselves] to work for a better Italy.”
Today, Pope Francis said, “we are not living in an era of change so much as a change of eras.” In the face of the challenges we face in the modern world, he said we must seek to see our problems as “challenges, not obstacles,” reminding us that the Lord is active and at work in the world.” Wherever we find ourselves, he said, we must “never construct walls or borders, but [rather] piazzas and field hospitals.”
Concluding his address, Pope Francis said again he prefers to see the Italian Church as restless, “always close to the abandoned, the forgotten, the imperfect.” He said he longs for “a joyful Church with the face of a mother, who understands, accompanies, caresses,” and called on those present to “dream . . . about this Church, believe in it, innovate with freedom.” Pope Francis said it wasn’t his place to tell them how to accomplish “this dream,” but nonetheless encouraged them to look to his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, seeking ways to deepen their understanding of its message, and find new ways to implement its practical suggestions.”