The Pontificate |

The Pontificate

Published Date : 2018-12-13

Miguel Ángel Fiorito and popular religiosity in Jorge Mario Bergoglio's formation

Since his election on March 13, 2013, among the many questions posed regarding the person and history of Pope Francis are those about the origins of his thought in general and of his theological mindset in particular. Between 1968 and 1978, Jorge Mario Bergoglio finished his formation as a Jesuit and began his ministry as a priest, first as novice master and then later as provincial. At the time of his ordination (1969), he was almost 33 years old. In that...
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By: José Luis Narvaja, SJ

Who is the “Bad Shepherd”?

The shepherd who sells what he freely inherited When he was still Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the pope wrote a paper titled “The Bad Superior and His Image.”[1] This referred, obviously, to the superior within the Jesuit order who has a precise pastoral mission. Strikingly, in that article he did not use the image of the mercenary which Jesus himself places in opposition to the good shepherd, but rather he uses the image of the one who “sells what he...
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By: Diego Fares SJ

The Meaning of Francis’ International Politics

In order to trace the pope’s political map of the world and grasp the roots of his international politics, we must avoid simplification and find the right keys to interpretation.[1] It is useful to start from his biographical and cultural roots, but it is also necessary to go beyond this. In any case, we must always bear in mind that the pope’s agenda is open and that this openness is a specific characteristic of his politics. We may distinguish four aspects...
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By: José Luis Narvaja, SJ

Ten Years on from Aparecida: The source of Francis’ pontificate

The spiritual plus of Aparecida Ten years after the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM) that took place in Aparecida, Brazil, between May 11 and May 31, 2007, it is worth reflecting on the impact the gathering has had on the life of both the South American continent and the universal Church. The last ten years have seen a growth in Latin America’s population by about 70 million people, but on the world stage it...
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By: Diego Fares SJ

'Amoris Laetitia', discernment, and Christian maturity

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew has described how Amoris Laetitia reminds us above all of God’s mercy and compassion, and not just of moral norms and canonical rules. So how can family ministry be developed for the entire Church to welcome, accompany, discern, and integrate? Some criteria for applying the necessary discernment are in the text of the apostolic exhortation. To tune in with God’s will and reach a full discernment, the Church also has at its disposal the...
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By: Pietro M. Schiavone, SJ

Features of a Sustainability Science

In 2020 the success or failure of the twenty-first meeting of the Commission of Parties of the United Nations (COP21 Paris) will be remembered as it gave the responsibility to each nation to go home and review commitments.[1] Over 110 countries signed up to the Nationally Determined Contributions scheme.[2] The year 2015 was also notable for a retake on human needs and action to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) released in New York.[3] Not tangential to these events and embracing...
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By: Pedro Walpole, SJ

Pope Francis at 80: A Leader on the World Stage

On December 17, 2016, Pope Francis turned eighty. Despite the weight of his responsibility, he continues to show boundless energy as he carries out the Petrine ministry he was called to exercise three and a half years ago. This milestone in his life offers us a fitting occasion to reflect on his moral authority as Supreme Pontiff. The fact is that in today’s world there are many – not only Catholics, Christians, and believers, but also many non-believers beyond the confines...
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By: Federico Lombardi, SJ

Take the Gospel with Tranquilizers: A Conversation with the Superiors General

“The Pope is late,” they tell me at the entrance to the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall on November 26, 2016. Inside, in the place where Synods are held, 140 Superiors General of the Male Religious Orders and Congregations (USG) are waiting. They are gathered at the end of their 88th General Assembly. Outside a little light rain. “The Fruitfulness of the Prophetic in Religious Life” is the theme of the Assembly that had met November 23-25 at Rome’s Salesianum. It...
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By: Pope Francis

“Brothers and sisters, good evening! You know that it was the duty of the conclave to give Rome a bishop. It seems that my brother cardinals have gone to the ends of the earth to get one… but here we are… I thank you for your welcome. The diocesan community of Rome now has its bishop. Thank you!” With these words on March 13, 2013, at 8:22 p.m., Pope Francis introduced himself to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square and to the people all around the world following the live broadcast.

Since its origins in 1850, La Civiltà Cattolica has lived a special relationship with the popes who have succeeded each other on the throne of St. Peter. In more recent years, the journal has accompanied the pontificate of Francis by dedicating constant attention to his magisterium and travels. It has done so to the extent that, when he received the Jesuits of the journal for the publication of its 4,000th edition, the pope himself said: “You have faithfully accompanied all the fundamental steps of my pontificate.”

In this volume we gather some articles that have appeared in the English edition of La Civiltà Cattolica. They offer a portrait of the pontificate. Obviously, these pages are not exhaustive – nor do they intend to be so – but they certainly do touch on some of the key points for understanding the figure and work of Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

The first two chapters go to the roots of his formation. Ten years after the event, the first chapter takes us back to the Fifth General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM), which took place in the Brazilian city of Aparecida, May 11-31, 2007. The pastoral experience of Bergoglio and his inspiration have deep roots in that Conference. The second text reconstructs the figure of Fr. Miguel Ángel Fiorito (1916-2005) who was a central figure in the formation of Bergoglio.

Then some specific themes are addressed: the international politics of the pontificate, his own style of leadership, a closer look at the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia and the themes of the encyclical  Laudato Si’. Finally, the volume closes with a reflection on being a pastor, its specific characteristics, and also how to recognize a “bad pastor.”


Summarizing the key features of the pontificate of Francis as it has unfolded up to now would be an arduous task. Allow me to signal a few traits that emerge in the essays gathered in this volume.

The pontificate of Francis has been prophetic. This in the sense Yves Congar describes as being made by someone who “confers on the movement of time its true relationship with the design of God.” Pope Francis is a pope of the Second Vatican Council, not in the sense that he repeats it and defends it, but in the sense that he appreciates the intimate value of reading the Gospel at work today, or reading the Gospel in the light of contemporary experience.

This is certainly a pontificate of encounter. Pope Francis is not a man commanding alone. He is fully aware of being a bishop with his people. The “culture of encounter” and of nearness develop a management of authority whereby the more you are perceived as distant the less authority you have. In this sense, the pope challenges the common perception of authority that is articulated in terms of separation. This culture has its basis in the availability to receive (and not only to give). And for Bergoglio, dialogue substantially means doing something together.

His is a dramatic pontificate. This drama comes from St. Ignatius of Loyola and his meditation on the two banners. Ignatius describes a battlefield where “Christ, our high captain and lord” comes up against “Lucifer, mortal enemy of our human nature.” For Bergoglio Christian life is a battle where we are always consoled by the certainty that the Lord has the final word on the life of the world. The Church is the hospital on the battlefield.

It is also a pontificate of discernment, which is an interior stance that pushes us to open ourselves up to finding God wherever God chooses to be found, and not only within well-defined perimeters. Above all, Francis does not fear the ambiguity of life; he faces it with courage. Our actions and decisions are to be deeply rooted and must be accompanied by a reading of the signs of the times that is attentive, meditative and prayerful. These signs are everywhere: be it a great event or the letter of a simple member of the faithful.

His is also a pontificate of incomplete thought, of “open thought.” This means he doesn’t seem to have a “project,” that is, a theoretical and abstract idea to apply to history. Rather he has a “plan,” that is, a lived spiritual experience which takes shape step by step and becomes concrete and leads to action. This is not an a priori vision, which refers to ideas and concepts, but an experience that refers to “times, places and persons,” as Ignatius of Loyola asks, and so not to ideological abstractions. Hence, interior vision is not imposed on history seeking to organize it according to its own parameters, but it dialogues with reality, it inserts itself into the history of humanity, it takes place in time. The road that it tries to complete is for him truly open, and it rejects easy conclusions; it is not a road map written in advance. The road unfolds as you go along.

In this sense, Francis offers a pontificate of tension between spirit and institution. There is for him always a dialectic tension in the Church, which is “a people of pilgrims and evangelizers, transcending any institutional expression, however necessary” (Evangelii Gaudium, 111).

Finally, this is a pontificate of borders and challenges. His model is the meeting of Jesus with the disciples on the way to Emmaus. He asks pastors to accompany the people by walking alongside them when they enter into the night, drifting alone without a goal, as he said to the bishops of Brazil last July 27. The Church is not just a “light house,” it is also a “candle” that walks with people, giving them light sometimes in front, sometimes in the middle and sometimes at the back to ensure that no one is left behind. So the Church is “on the road” callejera: living and working along the pathways of the world.

We trust these pages will help the reader perceive the basic traits we have quickly described and appreciate their roots so as to be able to live more fully the ecclesial experience of the Francis years.

Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ

Director of La Civiltà Cattolica