May-05-14 - by Rosendo Fraga
1. The day of the four Popes at the Vatican last on Sunday 27 confirms once again that Francis is acting with a historic dimension. The simultaneous canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II is unprecedented: never before have two Popes been sanctified on the same day. But it also has a special meaning by combining two thought currents within the Church: the progressive one, that takes the former as the role model and the conservative one, that is identified with the latter. It must be noted that the Polish Church has criticized quite a lot the reformism of the current Pontiff. In addition, for the first time in history, a Pope and his predecessor –in this case Benedict XVI- attend a canonization ceremony together. The symbolic approach of two thoughts currents takes place, especially of two different views of Catholicism. The German Pope had always has a euro-centered view about the future of the Church whereas the Argentine Pope, instead, is more focused on universality and the emerging world. It must be noted that Bergoglio, in terms of doctrine, is more reformer than progressive, a hue which is significant. He is bold in his reforms to the heart of the Church but more moderate in ideological aspects. The participation of almost a million people worldwide at the meeting of the “four Popes” also ratified that Francis has managed to promote a great mobilization of Catholics. Ever since he is Pope, more people go to Church.
2. John Paul II was an essentially political Pope, who played a decisive role in the fall of Communism. He was the first non-Italian Pope since Renaissance. Little after taking over, he travelled to his home country and met with a union leader of the anti-communist activism ship yards (Walesa), pushing him for embodying change in Poland, causing in the late 80s a domino effect that bloodlessly overthrew the European communist regimes, ending with the collapse of the USSR. In politics, the action of the Polish Pope agreed with the simultaneous leadership of Reagan in the US and Thatcher in the UK. John Paul II influenced the speed of the communism bloodless fall. He suffered one attack against his life. But doctrine-wise he made no major advances. By contrast, he reasserted the doctrine, failed to innovate forms and is criticized today for not having faced problems such as child abuse by priests. But he was highly popular, particularly among young people and played a decisive role in changing the world’s frontiers. As to Argentina, he had some influence in the conflict with Chile over the Beagle isles through mediation and the Vatican’s award in the border dispute. In the Falklands war, he visited Argentina. He was unable to stop the war but sympathized with a Catholic country in tough times.
3. Instead, Fancis is a Pope more centered on the reform of the Church and spirituality rather than on politics –his focus is on the internal change of Catholicism. He meets with all political leaders and given his popularity, he is also visited by non-Catholics and even non-Westerners. They look for a picture with him to get some of his popularity. Obama seems to know this best. He said that the Pope awakens the wish to change behaviors. In view of the civil war in Syria, he promotes prayer. In the crisis in Ukraine, he meets with the provisional prime minister but avoids getting involved; in the conflict of Venezuela, he avoids a formal mediation by the Vatican, as was requested, and limits it to a testimonial presence in the dialogue between Chavism and the opposition. Realistically he seems to perceive the limits of his temporal action and seeks to expand them spiritually and pastorally. He appoints a Council of 8 Cardinals to help him in the governance of the Church, which has historically been an absolute monarchy. More than half, are not European. He chooses as his private secretary a priest born in Egypt from the Coptic ritual, who speaks Arabic. He effectively manages symbolic communication and the Vatican twitter account grew significantly since he is the Pope. He gives testimony, he listens, comforts. He does not make politics but promotes the necessary ideological debate, questioning and criticizing the functioning of capitalism today, promoting a debate that is in general absent. Unlike the Polish Pope, the Argentine is not political: he welcomes all but his main goal is the change of the Church.
4. His relationship to Argentina shows he is not a political man although he closely follows what happens in his country and welcomes all Argentines who want to visit him. He took over in March and in the following days he met with many opposition leaders who sought a picture with him. His message was clear: get together for election but the opposition ran more divided than ever. After the primaries, all union leaders who visited him decided to get together after the election but did not do so. In December, he promoted that all political forces sign a commitment against drugs and by the order of the president no one in the ruling coalition signed it. In January, the table of dialogue that worked between 2001 and 2002 was suggested again. In March this year, completing one year as Pope, he welcomed the Argentine president for more than two hours. When she came back, she decided to be the godmother of the lesbian couple’s daughter born after artificial fertilization, and on the following days, 72 congress members of the ruling coalition submitted the bill to legalize abortion before Congress. Perhaps that is why the Pope decided not to come to Argentina when last year he visited Brazil and he has already stated he won’t do it until 2016; that is when another administration has taken over. In Argentina, everyone wants the picture with the Pope but few listen to him.
5. To conclude:
a) The day of the four Popes in the Vatican has ratified the historic distinction of Francis and his intention to cohesion the Catholic Church to make his reformist intention possible.
b) John Paul II was an essentially political Pope with great charisma, who contributed to changing the world frontiers, but who failed to innovate the doctrine or governance of the Church.
c) Francis seems to be the opposite: he puts all his efforts on the spiritual aspect and gives priority to the change of the Church, generally eluding the concrete political actions.
d) Argentina is the most eloquent case: everyone wants the picture with him but do not heed what he says; perhaps that is why he has postponed his visit to his country until 2016.