Mass for the Inauguration of Pope Francis

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Mass for the Inauguration of Pope Francis
19 March 2013, Cathedral, Hobart.

On Saturday last, 6,500 journalists, a huge number when you stop to think,  attended a special audience of the new Pope, Pope Francis.  The number in itself is a reminder of the enormous amount of interest there has been in the events of the last month, the resignation of Pope Benedict, and the election of Pope Francis last week.

During the audience he revealed how he had come to the decision to take the name of Francis. Seated close to him at the Conclave was the Brazilian Cardinal, Claudio Hummes, who is also a religious, a member of the Franciscan order. As the number reached the magical number of 77, indicating that the Argentine Cardinal had been elected, his companion leant over to the new Pope and whispered in his ear “Don’t forget the poor.”  From that comment, his thoughts moved to the idea of St Francis of Assisi, and then to the decision that he would be called by the name of Francis.

All the information that has come to us indicates that this is not some newly-adopted stance – a concern for the poor, or as one journalist suggested “he has mud on his boots.”. In his home country of Argentina, there have been very difficult times, as the powerful forces of the military, and the wealthy sought to impose their will on the country. It is the same story for many countries in South America. There are enormous riches, but they have been poorly administered.

Pope Francis would have been aware of the huge gap between rich and poor, between the powerful and the weak ever since he was a child. Apparently he grew up in a middle-class suburb called Flores, not far from the centre of Buenos Aires, but still very close the barrios where people lived and still live in conditions that a very substandard. They are known euphemistically as “crisis communities.”

Today, the day of his inauguration, is also the Feast of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. Just as with Pope Francis, there was an unexpected change of direction in his life as well, one in which he needed to show great faith and trust in the Word of God. 

His first dilemma was to find a way to protect Mary from the same possible fate as the woman about whom we read in the Gospel passage for last Sunday – Mary also could have been facing death by stoning. Clearly Joseph could not allow that to happen. On the other hand he was receiving directions from the Holy Spirit that again were difficult to comprehend, but he trusted in the source of the directions he was given and all came clear in the end.

Much has been said about the challenges that the Church has to face, and again much has been said about the qualities of the new Pope to meet those challenges as he gradually settles into his new role as Shepherd, Teacher and Leader.

We have the opportunity tonight to give thanks for the pontificate of Pope Benedict. Above all, he gave to the Church what he did best as a Teacher. His three Encyclicals,  Deus Caritas  Est (God is Love) Spe Salvi (In hope we are saved)and Caritas in Veritate ( Charity in Truth) are three beautiful expressions of the importance of love and hope in the Christian understanding of life. He wrote very beautifully about Jesus and also some of his messages on the day of World Peace each year were likewise outstanding.

He has a profound understanding of the dignity of every human person, which was the starting point of his deliberations in many instances. The task of Pope Francis will be to take some strong measures to ensure that these same teachings will become more obvious in the way the Church functions, the culture it expresses and the priorities by which it lives. It will be an enormous challenge, but Pope Francis has a good track record back in Argentina.

In one of the newspaper reports, the authors say that Pope Francis has honed his leadership skills in one of the difficult classrooms on the planet: Argentina, where politics has long been a blood sport practiced only by the brave. The authors of the article reminded the readers that he rose through the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Argentina in times of dictatorship, capitalist excess, economic crisis and populist fervour. 

Late last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the commencement of the Second Vatican Council. In so many instances, the Council was able to give a clear direction about the way into the future, indicating the tensions that would be there at all times. The relationship between the universal Church and the local churches would always require understanding and sensitivity; likewise the sharing to responsibility between the Pope and the College of Bishops, the importance of the local communities and the celebration of the sacraments as expressions of the life and faith of the community and the presence of God within them.

In the document on the Church in the Modern World, the bishops said that “In a world experiencing the full flood of development this persistence of poverty-stricken masses and individuals constitutes a pressing call for “a conversion of minds and attitudes.”

There are many thousands of followers of Jesus who have needed that call and done what they could to assist those who are poor – religious priests, sisters and brothers have been at the forefront, both in Australia and beyond, likewise many thousands of men and women working in various ways and locations. We acknowledge such societies as St Vincent de Paul and agencies in the Church such as Caritas Australia and Caritas International. We are grateful for their efforts, and the challenge is now to build in those efforts and move ahead, guided and inspired, it would seem by our new Pope.

We pray this evening, along with the whole Church, that our new leader, Pope Francis,  will continue to inspire us to take up the challenge “not to forget the poor,”  guided by the Holy Spirit and inspired by two of the greatest saints in our Catholic tradition, St Joseph and St Francis of Assisi.