The Wellington Church was treated to an unexpected dose of Francis tonic when Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga arrived last month fresh from chairing the pope’s new Council of Eight Cardinals and accompanying Pope Francis to Assisi.
Not only did Cardinal Rodriguez give us an extra day by arriving early, but he seemed to bring that special joy that we have come to know in the past seven months as particularly Francis.
Here was a first-hand experience of the missionary church that Francis has spoken of many times during his short pontificate – Cardinal Rodriguez said the pope had asked the cardinals to go out to the periphery of the church in the world, geographic as well as spiritual, political and economic. Cardinal Rodriguez spoke of listening in a new way and of starting to open up to those who had previously been excluded from Eucharist – the divorced and remarried, for example.
Early in Francis’ papacy, the world pricked up its ears on hearing the pope respond to a question about gay people in the Church, ‘who am I to judge?’ He said the Church’s teaching was clear and he was a son of the Church. Here was a merciful and compassionate Church leader focusing on the value of people.
Pope Francis described himself as a sinner, ‘this is the most accurate definition,’ he told the editor in chief of the Italian Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, Antonio Spadaro SJ. With this description of himself, he emphasised the love of God for sinners and conveyed a sense of Pope John XXIII’s much quoted statement, ‘See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little’.
Pope Francis’ invitation to cardinals from all corners of the globe to help in his reform of Vatican administration was an idea that came from the cardinals in the conclave to elect him in March after Pope Benedict XVI resigned. Cardinal Rodriguez developed this consultation by wanting to hear from the church of the south whose congregations were growing, unlike those of the European church. He gave an impression of a listening heart.
Pope Francis described to Antonio Spadaro his idea of the church as a ‘field hospital after battle’ in which the church must find the ability to ‘heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful’. When someone is seriously injured, you don’t ask about their cholesterol or their blood sugar levels, he said. You heal their wounds.
Alluding to the idea of collegiality among church leaders, he said, ‘We must walk together: the people, the bishops and the pope’.
Cardinal Rodriguez brought these convictions of Pope Francis to his meetings with Caritas Aotearoa (he is president of the international body) and with the New Zealand bishops, leaving behind him a legacy of hope, joy and of a positive future.