Pope’s emphasis on social justice could reinvigorate the Church

He’s convinced the cardinals, wowed the crowds and on Saturday he attempted perhaps the trickiest task of all – to woo the hardbitten media. And Pope Francis pulled it off spectacularly, speaking warmly to several thousand journalists crowded into the Vatican’s Paul VI hall about their hard work covering his election and passionately of “a poor church for poor people”.

The gathering was yet more evidence of a church undergoing a fundamental shift. Riven by scandal, mired in countless dramas over leaked Vatican documents, worn down by squabbling over the return of retro-liturgies, the Catholic church has seemed an exhausted organisation in recent years. Now there is a pope who, despite his 76 years, seems vibrant and engaging and offers a different perspective – focusing on matters of justice.

The Argentinian pope’s emphasis on working with the poor will delight Catholics in Britain and in the poorest parts of the planet, where there is a vast network of Catholic schools, health care provision and social services. But this pope is emphatic that the church can’t just be a version of Oxfam: it always has to put Christ at its centre. While he said that he had taken his papal name from Francis of Assisi, his approach – social action alongside deep spirituality – is typical of his own Jesuit order and its founder saints, Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier.

He also spoke of wanting a church that is poor. To Vatican-watchers, this is code for saying that he wants it to be more humble. He himself is eschewing the trappings of office. Rather than wear the red slippers beloved of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, he has opted for plain black shoes. Rather than sit on the papal throne to meet the cardinals, he walked over to greet them and kissed several on each cheek. Continue reading


Catherine Pepinster is editor of The Tablet.

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