By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
In a recent edition of the German weekly “Der Spiegel” (Nr 22, May23 2015) under the banner headlines “The Unchained” and the “Rebel from St Peter”anasty slander was published against Pope Francis. It is the first time since the beginning of Pope Francis’ Pontificate that such open criticism was raised against the Pope by a leading European weekly. Its aim is to discredit the Pope by portraying him as a man who is confronted with mounting criticism within the Church in particular coming from the Roman Curia while at the same time he is portrayed as a Pope who doesn’t really know allegedly where his various “reform- effortsshouldlead to.”
The Spiegel story is a “reaction formation”from catholic circles in Europeto the multiple challenges which Pope Francis has announced since the beginning of his Pontificate: His demand to give attention to the poor, to go out to the periphery, his criticism against Europe’ immigrant policy, his meeting with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, his fight against the unjust economic structures, his speech in front of the European Parliament in December last year in which he complained about Europe getting old and indifferent, as well as his uncompromising call for a reform of the Roman Curia- all this is registered among different catholic circles in Europe with increasing unease and disliked by many political representatives as well as by the main stream media. In the midst of a true epochal crisis, the Pope’s sharp observation and suggestions how to steer the boat of mankind and what inner compass to give, his call for respecting human rights and for the love of the poor, has thrown many within the elites into an identity crisis.
“Der Spiegel”observes that under the new Pope the influence of the Latin American church is growing within the Vatican: 1,3 Billion believers live in the southern hemisphere and – in contrast to Europe – the criteria concerning the family and marriage are looked at differently in Latin America.
„El verdaderopoder es elservicio“
This article of “Der Spiegel”must be seen in contrast to several books which were published this year and last year about Pope Francis; books like the one written by Walter Cardinal Kasper 2015. Recently a book was published by the German Herder publishing house under the title “Die wahreMachtist der Dienst” (2014), which was first published in Argentinaunder the original title “El verdaderopoderes el servicio” by the Editorial Claretiana, Buenos Aires(2007).The book gives a direct insight into the thinking of Jorge Bergoglio. It is a compilation of homilies, essays, reflections and addresses which Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio made between 1999 and 2007. The introduction for the German editionwas written by the German Professor Dr. Michael Sievernich SJ (Johannes Gutenberg Universität, Mainz;Hochschule Sankt Georgen,Frankfurt) who during several months had been in contact with Bergoglio when the latter studied for some months in Frankfurt.
In his introduction Sievernichstarts from the title of the book in order to reflect about the notion of “power” and “service”. “Power” in the classical scientific definition given by the sociologist Max Weber for the 20th century means man who pushes through his will against all forms of resistance (Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft). This understanding only describes the mechanic side of power, leaving out its cultural ethical and moral dimension as it was given by the religious philosopher and theologian Romano Guardini (1885-1968).Guardiniwrote a small essay on power shortly after the horrendous Second World War (Romano Guardini: Die Macht. VersucheinerWegweisung). According to Guardini power is “ambivalent”, it can turn “good” or “bad”. In and of itself power is not a problem, but power becomes problematic when it perverts itself and when there is no respect and moral responsibility. If, asSievernichemphasizes, power is ethicallybounded, and responsible toward God and human conscience, it transforms into obedience to “serve”. Hence powermust be accompanied by the moral responsibility for people and institutions.
Sievernich also reflects about the meaning of the word “service” which in our modern service sector society has different meanings: Servicing trains and ships, Secret Service,Room service etc.But if service is conceived from a Christian point of view, it becomes linked to the idea of serving God and “thy neighbor.”
Concerning the spiritual sources for the essays published in the book, Sievernich points to two main sources: The Gospel and the pastoral work carried out in the “urban space” of the city.
“Urban space” as Leitmotif
Sievernich refers to the Pope’s biography: He originates from the megalopolis Buenos Aires where he grew up as Jorge Mario Bergoglio in the suburb “Flores” as the child of Italianimmigrants; he is a true porteňo as the inhabitants of Buenos Aires are called. He is familiar with the urban culture, interested in literature and music, but also in cinema and football: He also knows the urban problems, thefight for survival of the poor, the problem of youth unemployment, the social exclusion of the ones who are in existential need, the problemsof migration. This according to Sievernich explains why in his texts reference is made tothe “urban space”,to the significance of the “suburb” and its cultural influence on the formation of man’s identity. The city shapes the context in which the church exists and acts. Sievernich adds that from the beginning of Christianity till today, the city played an important role in the evangelization: Missionaries like St Paul first visited Greek cities, including the metropolis Athens; also St Peter went to cities and ended upin Rome. Thus Christianity from the beginning was a city religion and was spread from there by way of family and friends,also through mobile professions like traders and soldiers. “
God’s people in a global church
Another Leitmotif which constantly emerges in the texts is the category of the “people”.Whether it’s the national connotation of the people of Argentina, the “patria” or the people of Buenos Aires; whether it’s the religious meaning of the people of Israel or people of God; or whether it’s the social meaning of the “pueblo”with its wisdom and piety.
Sievernich refers to the Argentinian school of thought shaped by such theologiansas Lucio Gera and the philosopher Juan Carlos Scannone.Both regarded the “people” as a subject, which has a common cultural ethos, which in turn becomes visible in their own life style and “Sabiduria popular”(people’s wisdom), the center of which is “religiosidad popular”. They talk about the “theology of the people”which takes the life style and cultural expressions of its people seriously.
Bergoglio often speaks about the pastoral of “Encuentro”.This category of “encuentro” according to Sievernich, means “encounter with Christ”, the very personal encuentro in the divine lecture of the Gospel, the sacramental encuentro in the liturgy of the mass, but also the encuentro with the people, in particular with the poor.Cardinal Bergoglio demands a “culture of encuentro”, which can particularly be shaped by the efforts in education and socialization. He often makes reference to the parable about the merciful Samaritan who in answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?”(Prójimo),acts in a merciful way by taking on his shoulder the wounded man and by caring for him,i.e. “encuentro” is characterized by such Samaritan like “projimidad”, which respects theotherman’s dignity.
Ways of moving in the larger space
The word “way”(camino) is also a Leitmotiv in the texts of thebook.“Camino”becomes a metaphor for the ways in which God leads man, but also for the ways of life of man with its ups and downs. It is connected to the notion of “peregrinatio”, pilgrimage (for example the “camino” to Santiago de Compostela)but also to the “camino” which the church itself is using in its pilgrimage among the peoples. This in turn is very much connected to the “Religiosidad popular” as the Pope states various times in this book.
The meaning of education
On the background of this insightful introduction it is noteworthy to look at one particular address which was given by ArchbishopJorge Bergoglio in front of the Argentinian associations of educators, in the year 2006. The title was “Ourpeople is called to be great.”
In his address the Pope compares the task of the educator with the task to build a “Ciudad terrena”- a City of God on earth. Socialization of young people is an essential task at school.
And the vocation of the teacher is a difficult job since he must invent every day new forms of giving recognition to the pupils, of loving them and of promoting mutual respect and love among them. A teacher is “someone who loves and teaches others every day in the difficult talks to love. He is led in his task by the need to create social relationsso that each individual becomes part of community, a people, a nation“, the Bergogolio said at the time. He uses this observation toreflect about the notion of “people” and the question of “what it means to be a people?In reference to the history of Argentina and the many battles which the nation led under the slogan “El pueblo unidojamás sera vencido…”, Bergoglio underlines that irrespective of how the word “People” was used in the national history of Argentina, there is a need to “rediscover” its meaning.“We can only talk about people, when there is engagement and participation .(…) Its more than a word: It’s an appeal to leave our individualistic island,our self- interest and throw ourselves into the main stream which constitutes the main artery of our country.”The term “people” according to Bergogliohas an inherent mobilizing power, which can liberate for the good but also for the bad.
The significance according to Bergoglio is a call “to be present and to actively engage -here I am.I take part”. Other constituent elements of “people” are the geography and history of the people. In order to better explain this, Bergoglio speaks about the big city- the urban space, and urges to rediscover the “suburb”in which we find the roots of our day to day life.“As a common space the suburb includes a multitude of colors,tastes,images, memories and sounds which shape the day to day life: something small almost invisible, which nonetheless is indispensable.” The inhabitants of the suburb, the colors of the football club, the changing placeswith the stories of play,love and friendship which were growing here, the street corners and meeting points, the memories of the grand- parents, the noise of the street, the music, the special light inthis housing block or in that corner – all this is the basis which shapes identity. A personal and collective identity orbetter: a common and therefore personal identity.(…) To be a peoplemeans to live in a common space.”Bergoglio urges therefore that we must open our eyes for the things and people in our day to day environment.Particularly the school which is part of the suburb is the place which establishes new relations, creates social identity,brings the families and generations together and connects them to the bigger community of the suburb to the institutions and networks, which fill the urban space with life.
The historical dimension of “people” is not only past and present but also the questions of responsibility for the common destiny of the future. “That, which unites us and gives us the power to break through egoism and recognize us in the present and look back to the past, is the origin and chance for a common future.”
Bergoglio concludes that we must think “big” in planning the future.The best future we can dream ofmust become our measuring rod, the compass which determines our actions and quality of our contribution. Another important part of the education is the need to awaken the people’s interest in art, literature, music and at one point in his address urges to read the national epic of “Martin Fierro”: “Argentina has given the world writers and artists of great values; like the classicists they were able to awaken the ‘universal’ in the heart of men, when they speak about local subjects and this is true for popular art and culture” .We should reconquer this, Bergoglio underlines. All the beautiful novels and the artistic beauty of architecture should be used to “upgrade our national culture” and this way wins back the “identity as a people “. This should also true for the peoples around the globe like a polyhedral should find “unity in multiplicity.”