Dear Pope Francis, whom the cardinals as your brothers went to seek “almost to the end of the world”:
May the Lord give you peace!
Ten years have passed since your election and your presentation in St Peter’s Square, that was so cold but crowded, where you showed yourself as the bishop of the Church of Rome who ‘presides in charity over all the churches’. Ten years you have done so many things good to the world and to humanity.
On this commemorative and heartfelt date, I would like to say our gratitude to you on my own behalf and on behalf of so many men and women in the Church and others, on the gifts you have given us during these ten years at the head of the Church. There are many other things you have done, and thank you for that, but the number of them in this case works more as a symbol than an adjective. I present them below.
1) Your name Francis, just like that
The day after that 13 March 2013, people wondered whether your name referred to St Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary of the 16th century, or to St Francis of Assisi, the medieval saint. The answer came quickly. The chosen name was related to the saint of Assisi. The words ‘Pope’ and ‘Francis’ together seemed a paradox, but in these ten years, you have transformed them into an ecclesial harmony through your gestures and words.
At the same time, the question arose whether you would call yourself as Francis or Francis I. The answer was coming without postponing. You would have called yourself Francis, without adding either the ordinal or the Roman numeral. Among other things, we noticed that you decided to sign yourself without the small episcopal cross preceding your name and without the pontifical PP (pope) behind it.
2) Your humility and simplicity
How can we not be grateful for your gestures of the profound simplicity and the depth human. You present yourself as the humble Bishop of Rome and you ask for prayers for you. You constantly remind us to the young man from Assisi who renounced his wealth and luxurious clothes. You like sobriety and your vestments are sober. Your mitres have no gold or precious stones. The cross you wear on your chest is simple. Your language is the language of the people, so it is easy to understand, even if it is difficult to accept.
On Holy Thursday you liked to visit the Italian prisons to wash and to kiss the feet of inmates, some of them are of other religions. You have left the Apostolic Palace to live in the simplicity of the Vatican guesthouse or Casa Santa Marta. Every day of your pontificate you have lived with the conviction of your choice of simplicity.
3) Return to the centrality of the Gospel
In this, you are very similar to the Poverello who, precisely 800 years ago, began his Rule by saying: ‘The rule and life of the Friars Minor is this, that is, to observe the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ’. This was also your horizon of life and that of your being as a pastor in the Church. You showed us that all the rest of Christian life flows from the beauty of this Gospel life.
The first Apostolic Exhortation that borrows your signature begins precisely with this exclamation: ‘The joy of the Gospel fills the heart and the whole life of those who encounter Jesus’. All the ecclesial reforms you have promoted were born out from the desire to bring us back to Jesus and to turn us away from which draws us away from Him.
4) The tenderness and vigour with which you govern the Church
Like St. Francis of Assisi, your Petrine ministry is carried out with tenderness and vigour. Many of your gestures are full of tenderness. Your commitment to the ethics of care reminds us to God’s tenderness. Your greatest weakness is in the face of human and ecological pain. That is why war hurts you and makes you a pastor who is seeking peace. You write or phone to the people in distress in order to comfort them. The question of communion for the divorced and remarried is certainly a constant concern in your inner dialogue.
In recent years you have sought out co-workers to help you in the governance of the Church. Never we have seen before so many women working in the Roman Curia. As you say, when women arrive, things change for the better. You are a Christian with freedom of spirit.
At the same time, you have been demanding in terms of the living Gospel values in the Vatican Curia, but also in terms of the Church’s authority in the world. Your hand did not tremble in demanding economic transparency and sobriety in the use of Church goods. You are convinced that all renewal begins at home. You have dealt with the abuse of power, and you have not given pause to the problem of pederasty in the Church. Certainly, the wear and tear were great, but, undoubtedly, the consolation of the spirit was never lacking.
5) The gift of a year dedicated to mercy
In the third year of your pontificate, you did this. How good is that it has done to the Church to focus more on God’s mercy than on human sins. Your ministry is full of mercy. You speak about an open Church where there are no VIP seats. You recognize that the Church is made up of the sinners who need forgiveness and mercy. Therefore, the Church is for all. You have the special gift of bringing those who feel distant from the Church to be closer to it.
6) You have made the peripheries the centre of the Church
With your prophetic gestures you have made the ‘discarded’ of society is visible. We remember you in Lampedusa when you criticized the European refugee policy. But you did not just want to make them visible, you wanted to bring them from the existential and social peripheries to the centre of the Church. Because you told us, ‘…true reality is seen from the peripheries… the periphery makes us understand the centre’. You work for a Church being closer to the poor and marginalized. In short, you work for a simple Church, with the poor and for the poor. How much resistance you must have encountered on this path, which was the same as that of Jesus and Francis of Assisi. That is why your concern is not so much that the Church accumulates the wealth, but that the Church actively fights the poverty.
7) Wanting a fraternal world and a fraternal Church
Fraternity is one of the key interpretations of your pontificate. In your first speech, on the day of your election, you said: ‘Let us pray for the whole world, that there may be a great fraternity’. You thus remind us of the dream of Francis of Assisi, the universal brother.
The backbone of your thinking is therefore in Evangelii gaudium (2013), in Laudato si’ (2015) and in Fratelli tutti (2020). You seek to build a fraternal Church inwardly and outwardly. Likewise, you expanded this fraternal horizon when you wrote in the first paragraph of Laudato si’: ‘Our common home is also like a sister, with whom we share our existence’. Furthermore, in your last encyclical, you insisted on the need to build fraternity and social friendship “because St Francis, who felt himself brother to the sun, the sea and the wind, knew that he was even more united to those who were of his own flesh” (Fratelli tutti, n. 1). You are brother pope who seeks fraternity.
8) Entering into a synodal process
From the very beginning of your pontificate, you started a synodal path between the bishop and your people. “A path of brotherhood, of love, of trust between us,” you said. This is nothing other than the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council, of which you are a faithful son. The Synod of the Amazon is a clear example of a synodal Church. You wanted to govern with others. You wanted to bring about the reform of the Roman Curia with a group of cardinals from all over the world. You know that the great changes take a time and are achieved through the processes. That is why you do not do violence to the times.
Moreover, you put us in a dynamic of synodality. ‘Listen to the people’ is your slogan. Not only the people of the Church, but also those who are or feel outside of the Church. The next synod will be a new Pentecost for the Church. May God continue to give you the lucidity and strength to carry it forward.
9) The recognition of martyrdom in Latin America and other continents
Who better than you can know to what the Latin American Church experienced in the second half of the last century. Many children, men and women bore witness to their faith in times of fierce persecution. Some of them have been raised to the altars as the beatified or as saints. St Oscar Arnulfo Romero of El Salvador is at the top of this list of witnesses.
10) You challenge Franciscans to live their charisma and mission
Finally, dear Francis, thank you for helping us with your witness of life and your words to reinterpret and to update the fundamental Franciscan charism. Your encyclicals are the texts for posterity and have worked so much good to us. They are a real gift for us.
Knowing you, if we asked you what gift you would like to receive, I am sure you would say that the best gift we can give you is to pray for you. I assure you that we will. But please give us your blessing and pray for us as well.
With appreciation and gratitude,
Br. Daniel Rodríguez Blanco, OFM.
Cover Photo: Vatican News.