Pope Francis’ first year – how he has inspired us
Pope Francis has inspired millions around the world. CLAIRE MATHIESON talked to South Africans about how they have been inspired by the pope.
Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town celebrates the fact Pope Francis is not pushing an agenda but is simply “calling us back to the Gospel and back to Jesus Christ”. The archbishop said he has taken the pope’s first apostolic exhortation — which speaks of the Church’s evangelisation mission — to heart.
“I’m still trying to digest Evangelii Gaudium. I’ve been overwhelmed by Pope Francis and by his words,” he told The Southern Cross in an interview.
He hailed the pope’s insistence that the Church is a place of mercy and is not made up of holy people but of sinners.
“We are all in need of mercy, and Pope Francis reminds us of this.”
The bishops will meet Pope Francis during their ad limina visit to the Vatican over Easter this year, something Archbishop Brislin said all the bishops are looking forward to.
“We’re all trying to keep up with him! He’s keeping us on our toes and it’s quite wonderful. He is certainly the right pope for the right time.”
“The pope has inspired me because he doesn’t value material things,” said catechist Jennifer Jacobs of St Joseph the Worker parish in Pretoria West. “He drives an ordinary car and he does not live a lavish lifestyle.”
Ms Jacobs said the pope’s humble nature and the way in which he “comes down to the level of the ordinary man” has inspired her most especially in the age where aesthetics and wealth dominate.
“This is a time of greed and the love of money. Even priests and men of God seem to have fallen into this trap. Pope Francis shows us that money is not important,” she told The Southern Cross.
“He teaches us through his tweets and is a great inspiration and teacher. He even let an old friend ride with him in the popemobile, washed the feet of a Muslim female prisoner, he prays with the sick, and so much more.”
Ms Jacobs liked the fact that the pope considers family life and marriage so important. She said Pope Francis is inspiring more young people to get married and value married life.
Ms Jacobs, who is also the secretary of Pretoria’s archdiocesean pastoral council, is pleased that the pope has encouraged women in the Church and wants to see women doing more. She said it has helped make her job more of a pleasure.
“What really has me inspired is his theme of mercy and the conjunction between preaching the Gospel and going out to those living on the margin of society,” said Fr Stefan Hippler of Hope Cape Town, an NGO working in the field of HIV/Aids.
“I always believed that the Gospel must transfer into practical work — people must see and feel the unconditional love of God through our work. That is the deep meaning of missionary work — it’s hands-on, and that is what Pope Francis is calling for.”
One of the pope’s most powerful phrases was when on board a flight from Brazil he answered a question in reference to homosexuals in the Church: “Who am I to judge?” he asked.
For Fr Hippler, this is a pope who understands that judgment is for God alone and that “we have to work to see the beauty of all created and all creation”.
Fr Hippler said many could feel the new energy going through the Church at the moment. “There is a new sense of freedom to think again for yourself without the anxiety of being judged if your thoughts do not conform to official teaching. That gives room for the Spirit to work, and theology can develop in the best sense of the word.”
Fr Hippler said he had also noted a big impact on non-Catholics and lapsed Catholics who are starting to see the Church as more than just a moral institution. “One used to be questioned or even attacked for being a priest working in the Church—now people ask questions and want to know more,” the German priest said.
“I feel a deep yearning of most Catholics to get answers to their questions of today instead of the old answers which were true a couple of hundred years ago. Francis triggered that interest and spiritual people ask the Catholic Church again,” Fr Hippler noted.
“He has given me a new sense of belonging to the Church in a very deep and profound way. I don’t think we need to put him on a pedestal—he surely has his weak sides—but he is humble, honest and believes in the unconditional love of God for everybody as far as I can see and, for me, that counts for a lot!”
The secretary general of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Sr Hermenegild Makoro CPS, said she is really looking forward to meeting the pope in April when bishops travel to Rome on their ad limina visit.
“This is a Church made up of rules and there are regulations, but he is not focusing on those. He is focused on compassion and mercy,” Sr Makoro told The Southern Cross. “He is looking at things differently and reminding us to focus on what is important—and that’s people, not rules.”
Sr Makoro said there is great excitement in the Church and a new energy found in all levels of the Church—from the bishops’ conference right down to the pews.
The lapsed Catholic
Shortly after being confirmed a Catholic, Kirsty Honeyman began to question Christianity and the Catholic Church in particular.
Without feeling a particular
connection and without the Church making sense for her generation, Mrs Honeyman began to drift away. “It seemed archaic for our generation and many of my questions didn’t have clear answers,” she told The Southern Cross.
“However, in the last year Pope Francis’ humility and progressive, more liberal stance has piqued my interest.”
From the pope appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine to deciding to renew his Argentinian passport, this has been a pope of positive surprises and non-Catholics and even atheists are keen to see what he does and says next.
“Even though I still don’t agree with certain aspects of the Catholic doctrine, I am more interested in hearing about the Church and its message than I was a few years ago,” Mrs Honeyman said.
“He has shown humility and simplicity,” said Komape Kwena Dominic, branch secretary of the Association of Catholic Tertiary Students (ACTS) at the University of Venda.
“He is strict on emphasising humility that no matter how great or poor one is, we each have a purpose and a role to play in this world. In this materialistic world he actually represents a real example of self-detachment from the world.
He makes it easy and simple to live and follow the Gospel.”
And it’s not only the active Catholics on campus that the pope has motivated.
According to the ACTS secretary, who recalls the moment the pope hugged a man with a disfiguring skin condition, seemingly casual acts by the pope are inspiring to students because it’s refreshing and new. “He is a breath of fresh air everyone wants to see.”
Carl Rohrbeck, sustainability officer at Little Eden, said he has been inspired by Pope Francis’ “absolute devotion to the poor”.
The Johannesburg-based home, which cares for more than 300 intellectually challenged children, relies on the generosity of the community. “I also try even harder to connect with the residents,” he told The Southern Cross. Mr Rohrbeck, a parishioner of St Therese’s in Edenvale, said he was inspired by the pope’s servant leadership style.
Mr Rohrbeck’s mother Agnes would love to see Pope Francis visit Little Eden as the home would “resonate with his beliefs and he would be able to identify with the values that founders Domitilla and Danny Hyams left — respect, sanctity of life and love and care,” she said.
“All of which the pope himself stresses that we should have for the people of the world.”
Mrs Rohrbeck considers the pope a humble man, reminiscent of her own mother. “He has passion for doing things for people, not just preaching what should be done. He has his heart entwined with his soul.”
Mrs Rorhbeck said she learns more about Pope Francis through The Southern Cross and has been inspired to be a better person.
“He lives and works with the poor and embraces those who are different, he does not shun them.”
And non-Catholics have been equally moved.
Little Eden’s marketing and communications officer, Nichollette Muthige, said she became interested in the papacy shortly after Pope Francis was elected.
“Every month Pope Francis has a prayer intention and more than once we have incorporated his prayer intentions into ours. This month, we are using one of his that says: ‘We need to pray as if it were all up to Him but work as if it were all up to us’.”
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