What is Pope Francis doing? That is the question on many Catholics’ minds, especially after the last two interviews given by his holiness over the last few weeks. I must admit his words troubled me and I have always been a supporter of Vatican II and the changes it brought to the church. But Pope Francis seemed to be going too far. Yet every time I researched anything that bothered me, I discovered that he was only stating what was in the Catholic Catechism. For a second opinion, I also searched through the writings of Pope Benedict. Each time, I discovered that Benedict had said the same things, often in a more “extreme” manner. So, the problem had to be with all of us who could not make out what Pope Francis was doing.
My answer came to me as I read the following quote from his latest interview.
Vatican II, inspired by Pope Paul VI and John, decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to be open to modern culture. The Council Fathers knew that being open to modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers. But afterwards very little was done in that direction. I have the humility and ambition to want to do something."
At first I had misunderstood what he was saying and thought he was critcising Pope John Paul II for not following through on Vatican II. But as I reread the quote, I realised he was speaking about building on the work of John Paul II and Benedict and extending ecumenism to non-believers (atheists).
At this point, everything he has said over the last few weeks fell into place for me. Pope Francis is approaching atheists with an attitude of unconditional love because he believes that this is the only hope of returning these lost sheep to the fold. He has said that three of his favorite artistic works are the writings of Dostoyevsky, Fellini’s movie La Strada and Puccini’s opera Turandot. The one common thread between all three works is that each depicts the salvation of nihilists through the unconditional love of a believer. So if you want a better understanding of Pope Francis, a good way to start would be to read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment (shorter and an easier read than the Brothers Karamazov).
The final piece of this puzzle, for me, was that as always, Benedict had shown the way.
*Pope Benedict urged French youths on Friday to help put God back into public debate, either as Christians sharing their faith or as non-believers seeking more justice and solidarity in a cold utilitarian world. In a video address from the Vatican to an evening rally outside Notre Dame Cathedral in central Paris, the pope also urged them to “tear down the barriers of fear of the other, the foreigner, of those who are not like you” that mutual ignorance can create.
Benedict’s address, projected on a large screen in the square, came at the end of two days of a Vatican-sponsored dialogue between Roman Catholics and atheists, part of a drive to revive the faith in Europe that is a hallmark of his papacy.
“The question of God doesn’t endanger society, it doesn’t threaten human life!” he told the crowd during a break in its evening of modern and ancient Christian music. “The question of God must not be absent from the great questions of our time.*”