Before completing his first full year as pope, Francis was named Time magazine’s person of 2013 this week.
Pope Francis’ nine months in Rome have given birth to his advocacy for the poor that’s been heard around the world, to his constant proclamation of the gift of God’s mercy and to his daily reflections on the salvation offered to all by Jesus.
Following his unique election to the papacy after the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, took the name of St. Francis of Assisi and soon came to personify his namesake’s love of the poor and all creation.
The new pope has practiced the same prophetic leadership mission as his predecessors in much the same way. For instance, his pronouncements on the dangers of consumerism and the focus on market economies at the expense of human welfare are very similar to the teachings of both Pope Benedict and Blessed John Paul II.
What seems to draw extra media attention to Pope Francis’ leadership of the church, however, is his happy knack for finding the words to express the eternal truths of the faith plainly and succinctly. His innate modesty, the inclusivity of his invitation of Christ’s salvation to all and his obvious joy in living a Christian life are the personal traits that have won the first pope from the Americas the good will of people of all faiths and many nonbelievers.
However, there’s been as much substance as style in Francis’ first months in the papacy.
The most recent nine days of the pope’s activity are a good reflection of his nine months.
l On Dec. 4, Francis met at the Vatican with the eight members of the International Council of Cardinals he named this year to help him govern the church and reform the Roman Curia. It was the second meeting at the Vatican for the group that’s planning to overhaul administration structures of the Vatican.
l On Dec. 6, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, a member of the Council of Cardinals, announced Pope Francis accepted a proposal to set up a Vatican commission on the sexual abuse of children to advise him on how to prevent abuse in church settings and on the pastoral care for survivors of abuse and their families.
Also that day, the pope prayed that the late Nelson Mandela’s commitment to build a South Africa based on nonviolence, reconciliation and truth after the apartheid era will be an inspiration to future generations.
l On Dec. 9, the eve of a global wave of prayer against hunger, Francis warned that people must “stop thinking that our daily actions do not have an impact on the lives of those who suffer hunger firsthand.” In support of the “One Human Family, Food for All” campaign, the pope said there is enough food in the world to feed everyone if there is a will to respect the “God-given rights of everyone to have access to adequate food.”
l On Dec. 11, Francis, anticipating the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, prayed that Catholics throughout the Americas open their arms to the poor, to immigrants, to the unborn and to the aged, just as Mary opened her arms to all.
Let’s pray that the charismatic style and pastoral work of Pope Francis continues to attract people to the mission of the church and the salvation of Jesus.
The fact that pope has been anointed in the media for directing attention to the savior of the world every day of the year shows the Good News proclaimed by Francis is “still news of great joy for all the people.”
Ryan is editor of The Dialog.