by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
On December 17th Pope Francis will turn 84 years of age. His energy and activities are astounding for someone of his age and we pray that he will continue to enjoy this vigor for much longer. However, he surely knows that an octogenarian is in the twilight of life, and from my own experience, has only a few years left before dying. It’s a fact of life and a God-given grace not only to be aware of it but be preparing for it with serenity.
In this light the activities of Pope Francis are not only remarkable at his age but also say much about the legacy he wishes to leave—and more importantly the vision he has for humanity going forward. The Pope’s constant expressions of concern for the post-COVID 19 era are setting before the world Spirit-filled hope for what the “new normal” in the world could and should be.
A list of what Pope Francis is laying out almost daily speaks to the kind of last will and testament he wishes to leave with the human family. In summary form—and in no particular order of importance—here are several issues and possibilities which the Holy Father envisions for a future that is qualitatively better for humanity—especially for the huge populations which heretofore have been denied the opportunity for any sort of life with dignity. A short tag line goes with each category.
- Acting Now for the Future—no one reaches salvation by themselves.
- Looking to the Future with Creativity—preparing the future (task forces on Ecology, Economy, Security, Health).
- Communicating Hope—a civilization of hope, a civilization of love.
- Seeking Common Dialogue and Reflections—in our creaturehood there is a desire for solidarity.
- Supporting and Care—for each other in a difficult time and coming out of it stronger.
Of special note is Pope Francis’s Catechesis (religious formation) on the Pandemic—To Heal the World. This initiative sums up much of what the Pope is yearning for, dreaming of, praying about and insisting on as the human family emerges from the pandemic. One of the Pope’s closest collaborators, Cardinal Peter Turkson (from Ghana), explained the Holy Father’s intentions in launching this catechesis: he wishes to address the Church and the world with words of comfort, proposing inspiring alternatives to our old lifestyles, habits and social structures that the pandemic has revealed as lacking in justice, unsustainable and requiring drastic reforms to preserve the central value of the human person. The catechesis sets out a seven year “Laudato Si” action platform for “total sustainability.”
In addition to reading the companion encyclical to Laudato Si‘, Fratelli Tutti, it will be helpful to familiarize ourselves at least with an outline of this ambitious project. Some weeks back, before these pages were dedicated to the Season of Creation, we presented two of the seven Laudato Si‘ goals: the Cry of the Poor and the Cry of the Earth. The other five are: Community Engagement and Participatory Action, Ecological Education, Ecological Economics, Ecological Spirituality and Adoption of Simple Lifestyles.
All of these initiatives coming almost daily from Pope Francis tend to make our heads spin. However, remembering another octogenarian pope, St. John XXIII and his legacy, will help us to put what this pope is proposing into reachable terms. John was 78 when elected to the papacy in 1958 and no one expected him to do very much after the long pontificate (19 years) of Pius XII. Predictably Papa Roncalli was with us less than five years. However, the old man’s startling call for the Second Vatican Council pulled the Church into modern times and we are still unpacking its effects. In fact, it could be said that Pope Francis is clearly continuing the impetus of that Council now 55 years after its official close.
My guess is that 55 years from now, and beyond, the post-Pandemic vision of Pope Francis will continue to be felt and, one prayerfully hopes, implemented—not only in the Catholic world but by the entire human family to which it is being directed. Francis after all is acknowledged as “The Pastor of Humanity.”
Pax Christi cannot remain unaware of this truly Kairos era.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.