WHAT DOES THE POOR CHURCH MEAN?
- People all over the world are observing the style and behavior of Francis and will surely demand the same from their pastors – says Andrea Tornielli, an Italian Vatican expert in the interview with Milena Kindziuk.
MILENA KINDZIUK: – In your latest book entitled ‘Jorge Mario Bergoglio’. Francis. A biography of the pope’, you write that the most important idea of the new Holy Father is creating the Church of the poor. Does this idea concern only a material dimension?
ANDREA TORNIELLI: – Certainly, it doesn’t. It concerns a wider human and ecclesiastical existence. Let’s note that still before the election of the pope, in his speech to cardinals, cardinal Bergoglio was persuading that the Church should not be self-centered, but it should come out also towards peripheries, and not only in a geographical sense, but, first of all, the spiritual one. It must go out to these all who are suffering physically and spiritually. It must go out to these all absent from the Church. These are also poor people who will not come to the Church themselves.
– So, it is all about poverty in the spiritual sense….
– Yes, but we should remember that it is not deprived of material and social dimension. In order to help the poor, money is needed. It is impossible to run a charity action nor any other religious works without money. It is only important to use material means in a good way, and in fact, use them. Money which comes to saving and loans associations of Vatican, are given to schools, African or Asian communities of the lepers. The poor, as the Pope states, are a treasure of the Church and we should take care of them. If it does not happen so, in the opinion of Francis, we will build the church which is neutral, average, deprived of strength.
There is also another important element: the poor Church, according to the vision of Francis, this is the Church of humility and restraint. Such a Church would be a wish of the Pope in the contemporary world. So, when we are speaking about the poverty of the Church, then we can also look at it in this perspective. And we must not forget about the care about the whole work of creation, its beauty.
– So, can we expect that the Church of Francis will go more also towards the care about the poor, social help?
– Also in this direction, but surely, not only. The pope is a man extremely spiritual and absorbed in prayer. He used to say many times that he was aware that Somebody was holding him in His hands, or that God was holding his hand. As a cardinal, he had already used to warn against a danger of ‘the spiritual worldliness’. He emphasized that the Church should not become a non-governmental organization of the public use, but it should be the Church of Jesus Christ. It is Christ who is the centre of the Church and His challenge is the most essential.
– ‘And somebody who does not pray to God, prays to devil’ – says Francis clearly.
– Yes, Pope is clear and radical in his pronouncements. Hence he reminded at the beginning of his pontificate that when one does not believe in Christ, one believes, as he said, in the awareness of the devil, worldliness of satan.
I was impressed also by the words of Francis about God’s mercifulness. Here I mean a sentence said at the beginning of the pontificate that ‘God is not tired of showing mercifulness, but it is the man who is tired of asking for forgiveness’. Let’s note that it was accepted with enthusiasm all over the world, especially on the South-American continent. Priests from there told me that in the period of Easter, many Hispanics, even those who were keeping off the Church, but, being influenced by Francis’ words, went to the confession.
– Let’s return to our talk: whether Pope is calling the Christians to poverty? How should the Church fulfill this poverty?
– Through auto-reform. The Church must reform itself, starting with its own example. It must give an example to itself. If everybody sees that the Pope resign from a luxurious car suddenly, from excessive bodyguards, from unnecessary additions of clothes, it should be understood as an example for the people of the Church, both by hierarchs and by every Christian.
These are specified tips which should encourage us to change our life style.
– What does it mean that hierarchs should be poor? A poor pope, a poor bishop or a priest – what does it mean?
– It means that this hierarch should be restrained, humble and should not waste money. It is also important that he should be close to people who are poor, weak, ill, like cardinal Bergoglio who has always been close to marginalized people. When he became archbishop of Buenos Aires, few priests were working slums; whereas he designated many priests to work there. However he did not intend to create a pastoral ministry for a special care, but to treat the poorest inhabitants of the capital city of Argentina as believers of an ordinary parish and teach them how to be responsible for the Church. In addition, the Pope encourages other priests to it.
– Is there a place for a beautiful liturgy in the poor Church?
– Certainly, there is. The magnificence of liturgy is indisputable in the Church. But what is the most important in the liturgy, are not golden ornaments of liturgical vestments. Ceremonies which seem stylishand whose richness is striking, can become an empty theatre very easily, can hardly mean anything in the spiritual sense. This aspect had already been noted by Benedict XVI and other earlier popes.
– However, Francis simplifies liturgy maximally. And he does not sing at all.
– Indeed, Pope Francis does not sing. And not because he does not want to, but because he is not simply able to. When he had a part of his lung removed, he does not have so much air for singing. Let’s note that he also speaks very quietly. He has been so throughout all his life. In this respect, he does not intend to create new tendencies in the Church. Whereas he is distinguished by simplicity in celebrating any papal ceremonies. As we have already had an occasion to observe, the Holy Father likes speaking while standing, without a Miter on his head, he preaches short sermons, does not like long ceremonies.
– And can the poor Church have beautiful churches, or create great culture? Will Francis allow the Church for it, which is supposed to be poor?
– It is only an alleged contradiction. The Church has been creating such a great culture for ages. If the richness of architecture, art or the very ornament of the church serve to adoring God and are created for Him, they also serve to people. After all, the beauty of Middle-aged cathedrals is a gift for everybody, for the poor, for the rich, for the whole Church. The man needs beauty. Even Stalin knew it, who ordered to destroy churches and at that time built an underground, whose every station is a piece of art. He was aware that the man cannot function without beauty.
So, as I have already said, beauty which expresses the sacrum, does not contrast with the functioning of the Church of the poor. The contrast with it is, for example, travelling by luxurious cars. Any form of ‘exaggeration’ contradicts with the image of the Church of Francis. This idea is very important. The Pope showed it on Great Thursday, when he celebrated the Mass of Lord’s Supper – not in the Basilica of St. Peter, but in a place which relates to the picture of human moral poverty, weakness, so as to show the world that the real strength of the Church is seen in ministry. This is the vision of the Gospel.
– Are you surprised by the electing cardinal Bergoglio a pope?
– I have known cardinal Bergoglio for 10 years and, apart from cardinal Angelo Scoli, he was my main favorite of the conclave. When I was commenting the announcement of the election for the online edition of ‘La Stampa’ and cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran mentioned the first syllable of the name ‘Georgium’, I shouted: ‘Bergoglio!’. I was sure that it was about him; especially that I had received a message from cardinals a day before the conclave, that ‘shares of cardinal Bergoglio are going up’.
– What decided about it?
– I think that the pronouncement of cardinal Bergoglio during the general congregation, just before the conclave. Interestingly enough, everybody could speak no longer than 5 minutes, whereas the archbishop of Buenos Aires was speaking only 3.5 minutes, but he did it in such a way that he made a great impression on all cardinals.
– Now, he is surely making a great impression on the whole Church and thanks to it, he can change it…
– Yes, people all over the world are observing the style and behavior of this Pope and they will surely demand the same from their priests. They will also demand signs of restraint and more love from them.