PONTIFICATE WITH AN ALMONER IN THE BACKGROUND
FR. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ
This is the title which came to my mind after reading a text of Włodzimierz Rędzioch in ‘Niedziela’ no. 51-52/2013, where our Roman correspondent writes about the papal almoner archbishop Konrad Krajewski, whom pope Francis chose as a man being an extension of his hand, in order to bring help to the poor. From the beginning when he was in the Holy See, this Pope was speaking about the Church of the poor. He emphasized that the Church must look at people more attentively in order to notice poverty and find a remedy for it. As we found out, also as the bishop of Buenos Aires, he was a man extremely open to the poor and hurrying with help to them. So, the radicalism of pope Francis has its deep justification in his life and beliefs which were created in far Argentina.
The Church did not grow out of wealth but out of love
The problem of poverty and wealth, injustice and justice, chase for benefit and sacrifice is much more complex than it would seem from the first glance. As it concerns the Church which grows out of the tradition of over 2 thousand years – we remember from history that at its base there has never been any wealth, although it was possible to see the Christians among the rich.
Together with the Milan edict ( the year 313), the Church was acknowledged as official religion, and was teaching the Gospel freely, formulating ways of celebrating liturgy, and, first of all, it was doing pastoral work, whose purpose was evangelizing nations. It also started elaborating its forms of holding the post, so the first church institutions started appearing – papal, bishopric institutions – various administrative centres, also big cathedrals were built, excellent – for God’s glory – churches, as well as papal palaces called apostolic. The pope became very significant, also in a political sense, everyone respected the head of the Church and it influenced the way of life and functioning of popes’ surroundings. The Church was developing, became more universal and now we are dealing with not only Europe and Rome, from where the successor of St. Peter vicar of Jesus Christ on the earth manages the Church, but Christianity practically comprises the whole world.
And so we reach the times of the last popes – Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. We are looking at the activity of the Church of XIX century, when attacks on the Church got stronger and in many cases its persecution and destruction of clergy reappeared. The XX century is a difficult time for the Church, when there were wars among baptized nations, and later there was the time of atheism and the so-called practical materialism which was seized by Bolshevik and Nazis parties. The Church was being persecuted on mass scale again. Later there was the time of a kind of relative peace and it was even possible to subdue the previous functioning of the Church to reflection. The Vatican Council II, summoned in the second half of XX century, caused an inner look at the whole Catholic doctrine in the Church, and also at the way of functioning of the Church institution. At that time, many ways of expressing one’s opinion were subjected to great reforms, considering its essence – the good and clarity of the Gospel for the contemporary man.
And we were witnesses of, among the others, beautiful and rich pontificate of John Paul II, who could enter essential contents of the Vatican Council not only through its documents, but also direct teaching, and an example of life with faith, which contributed much more to realization of Vatican Council provisions, as well as brought people closer to God.
Pope Benedict XVI, a prominent theologian, introduces deep theological contents into the papal office, however, at one moment, the world is surprised by his resignation. In this context it is necessary to see the coming of the new pope – Francis. He comes from a far-away South-American country, from Argentina, and, he introduces a kind of novum into the Church through his person. It is expressed in a way of showing the Gospel teaching, in a new formula of the Holy See work. In his speeches Francis is extremely convincing and it is seen that he understands the Gospel message very specifically. It is expressed, among the others, in the last apostolic exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ – ‘Joy of the Gospel’ in which we find an outline of the new vision of the Church, including its structures, which Pope sees somehow in a different way, than we observed it in history. It is still not known in which direction all reflections and plans of the Holy Father will go, but we must notice the fact that he did not decide to live in the headquarter of his predecessors, but in the House of St. Martha – in a hotel, where he created his own home and where there is the ‘centre of his managing’. Certainly, he expressed his respect to the place of functioning of the pope as the head of the Church – the Apostolic Palace, he goes to work there, meets his guests, he gives his blessing from there and meets with his believers as Peter of our times. So – he connects one and another, the past, history with what is required at present times.
Tasks of the papal almoner
A kind of an unusual symbol is what the Holy Father wants to show through the activity of the papal almoner. This function is an expression of papal concern about poor people, who are in need. The papal almoner functions together with the Pope and his mission of help is strictly connected with the mission of the Church. As we read in an article of the journalist Rędzioch, the Pope says: ‘Your work is the most beautiful’. The Holy Father somehow envies archbishop Konrad that he can go to people in need so directly and tangibly. He knows that, in this way, he is following Christ who was bending over every poor person, who was raising and cuddling everybody to his heart, seeing not only suffering, but, first of all, human dignity of a suffering person. So, the Pope is a very diligent follower of the Divine Master, love to people is a matter of importance for him.
Poverty and suffering worry millions of people and are a social phenomenon, to which we have somehow become accustomed and we tolerate it. Wealth of the world is divided in an absolutely unfair way, therefore, we deal with inequalities among people as it concerns their material resources. Anyway, we see it also in our country, Poland, where some people’s monthly salaries reach hundred thousand zlotys, and others receive pennies for their hard work….Maybe that is why, the Holy Father wants to persuade people into the idea that it is necessary to bring normality into the world, that we all are supposed to share what we have with others, and that we all need something. Only a bit of the good will is needed, and we all will be happy. Sometimes we hear that people having unemployed brothers and sisters, or parents in need, will not share their things with them, saying that poverty is their business. Selfishness is cruel and sows much evil. And what about our generosity, imagination of mercifulness, about which John Paul II reminded so convincingly?...
The pontificate with the almoner in the background is a reminder that brotherhood requires mutual help and that it is necessary to divide material resources in a fair way.
Human poverty has many names
In the actions of the pope Francis one can notice elements of freeing from hypocrisy. Christ often spoke about hypocrisy and hypocrites, that is, those who think in one way but behave in another way. And hypocrisy sometimes is creeping into church communities, bringing elements of making career: somebody wants to achieve his life success and is doing everything in order to impress others. The Holy Father emphasizes that the phenomenon of making career cannot have a place in clergy, especially among workers of the Roman Curia. Hypocrisy cannot have its place in helping others.
It is good that the Holy Father Francis wants to cause a situation in which the supreme functions in the Church would be held by people who truly love Christ. After all, the problem of hypocrisy is also a problem of a lot of laymen who live in hypocrisy towards themselves and others, who are doing a lot of harm to others in an implicit way, in order to achieve something, or at least – what a horror! –so that somebody else would not achieve anything.
So, it is comforting that the pope Francis gives us all a good example that we, as the Christians, clergy and laymen, should perceive Christ especially in people in need. Unfortunately, the world cannot expect wise politicians and the fate of poor people is often included in wallets of the rich. Moreover, we pay attention to the material poverty, and the Holy Father also gives an example of sensitivity to spiritual and moral poverty, which prompts the man to bad behavior. So, we are looking carefully at this Pope and we are listening to his simple words because they can change a lot in us…