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December 22nd, 2013
10:24 AM ET

The Pope's secret strength: The freedom to be Francis

Opinion by the Rev. Thomas Rosica, special to CNN

(CNN) Christmas was a moveable feast for me this year - in fact it happened right smack in the middle of Lent, when the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church elected a man from Argentina to be the next Pope.

I have been asking myself a ton of questions over the past months.

What has happened in the church, and how can it be that a 77-year-old, retirement-bound archbishop from Buenos Aires has captivated the world?

How can we describe the sense of springtime that has come upon the church? How is it fathomable in our day and age that not only Christians and Catholics but millions of others are speaking about “Papa Francesco” as if he were their own?

Is this all the work of a PR company or clever media strategists hired by the Vatican to rebrand its image? Or is there something else at work? Let me tell you what I think is afoot.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio took the name Francis upon his election as Pope and told us he did so because of his love for Francis of Assisi. For the past nine months, many of us have been associating the Pope’s gestures and actions with the “Poverello” or “Little Poor One” of Assisi, perhaps the most beloved saint of the Catholic tradition.

We can easily envision Francis of Assisi in that idyllic, medieval Umbrian hilltop town and mythologize about what really happened back in his day. But too often Francis’ radical message is lost and we reduce him to a gentle, whimsical hippie who fed birds, smelled flowers and tamed wild wolves. We easily forget that in reality, Assisi’s favorite son was and is the model of a radical Christian.

One day as a young man, Francis heard the plea of Jesus from the crucifix in the dilapidated San Damiano chapel on Assisi’s outskirts. “Go and repair my Church,” he heard Jesus say. And he certainly did that in his lifetime and through the huge Franciscan family that he left behind to carry forward his dream and continue his work.

Many of us have spent the past months finding similarities between Francis of Assisi and Francis of Buenos Aires, who took up residence in a guest house in Vatican City rather than the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace.

We become easily fixated on lots of eye-catching, buzz-causing externals and great photo opportunities: A Pope who abandoned the red shoes - that were never an official part of the papal wardrobe! A Pope who dresses modestly, pays his own lodging bills, drives around Vatican City in a Ford Focus, calls many people on the phone, brings jam sandwiches to on-duty Swiss Guards at his door and invites street people to his birthday breakfast.

This Roman pontiff specializes in kissing babies and embracing the sick, disfigured broken bodies, and the abandoned of society. We sit back, smile and utter: “What simplicity!” “Wow!” Awesome!” “Finalmente!”

We say: “Here is a one world leader who speaks the truth to power, walks his talk, and names idolatry and greed for what they are. Here’s a bold and courageous shepherd who lifts up the poor and tells us that if they are not part of our lives, then we are a sad and even doomed lot. Just like Francis of Assisi did in his day!”

But that is not the whole story.

I have realized more and more over the past months that while I have always loved Francis of Assisi and all the romantic ideals he embraced and stood for, Francis of Buenos Aires doesn’t transport me back to medieval Assisi. He takes me back to Bethlehem, Galilee and Jerusalem.

Everything the Pope is doing now is not just an imitation of his patron saint who loved the poor, embraced lepers, charmed sultans, made peace and protected nature. It’s a reflection of the child of Bethlehem who would grow up to become the man of the cross in Jerusalem, the Risen One that no tomb could contain, the man we Christians call Savior and Lord. The one whose birth we celebrate on December 25.

More than anyone in my lifetime, Pope Francis has given me a powerful glimpse into the mind and heart of God.

He wants the church to be an instrument of reconciliation and welcome, a church capable of warming hearts, a church that is not bent over on herself but always seeking those on the periphery and those who are lost, a church capable of leading people home.

Francis knows only too well that at times we lose people because they don't understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity.

On the late afternoon of March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio received the call to go, rebuild, repair, renew and heal the church.

What we have witnessed over the past nine months is simply a disciple of Jesus, and a faithful disciple of Ignatius of Loyola (the founder of the Jesuits) and of Francis of Assisi, repairing, renewing, restoring, reconciling and healing the Church.

There are those who delight in describing the new Pope as a bold, brazen revolutionary sent to rock the boat. Others think he has come to cause a massive shipwreck.

But the only revolution that Pope Francis has inaugurated is a revolution of tenderness, the very words he used in his recent major letter on "The Joy of the Gospel."

“True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.”

It is this revolution that is at the heart of Pope Francis’ ministry.

Last week during a banquet in Chicago, Cardinal Francis George revealed why the cardinals gathered in conclave last March elected Bergoglio pope. George said: “Because the cardinal from Argentina was completely free. He possessed an interior freedom that was so evident.”

Is it not this unflinching freedom that allows Pope Francis to do what he does because he is unafraid and totally free to be himself at the same time of being such faithful son of the Church?

In our war-torn world, where selfishness, sadness, meanness, vengeance and harshness seem to have the upper hand at times, we need the message of Christmas: goodness, joy, kindness, mercy and the tenderness of our God.

These are also the qualities of the current revolutionary Bishop of Rome. No wonder why he has taken the world by storm, and why so many people are paying attention to him. We need the Francis revolution of tenderness and mercy now more than ever before.

The Rev. Thomas Rosica, CSB, is the CEO of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network. He also assists the Holy See Press Office with English language media relations. The views expressed in this column belong to Rosica. 

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Church • Leaders • Opinion • Pope Francis

soundoff (383 Responses)
  1. 00 00

    if he had not done what no other man had done, pharisees would have snored their way through his brief journey on the earth he spoke into existence and our pharisees would have to find something else over which to conduct pity parties

    January 12, 2014 at 12:49 am |
    • Crizzle Bump

      I'm guessing you've never been laid.

      January 12, 2014 at 1:06 am |
      • funfun

        Josephus would obviosly be among those who would not accept the official New Testament rumors then since he had his own belief that the Romans crucified Jesus and not the Jewish Priests. That would fly in the face of the official "Gospels". a complete idiot

        garbage from various jerks

        January 25, 2014 at 10:20 pm |
  2. 00 00

    sam stone
    like the vanity of believing that the creator of the universe deeply desires a personal relationship with you?

    i believe this virus pus, this loud mouthed fool and no-it-all buffoon, has piercing insights into the true nature of the 1 true god she hates and denies exists. she claims she was once believer. she lies just like her father

    January 11, 2014 at 4:41 am |
  3. Well aligned

    The new pope has aligned his message well with the Messiah and the Big Boss:

    http://thereligionblogging.blogspot.com/

    January 10, 2014 at 6:08 pm |
  4. Sean Lynch

    He must increase. I must decrease. The secret to happiness.

    January 6, 2014 at 7:46 pm |
  5. 00 00

    Opposing View, russ, chad, sharon, meredith s., jeremy, austin, topher, L of A, Robbie Brown, Jesus Beloved, tell the pharisees y u love the lord jesus christ. come on. don't b shy

    January 6, 2014 at 7:24 am |
  6. grannytenderstone

    amen!!!

    January 6, 2014 at 12:13 am |
  7. Sean Lynch

    He sets the captive free. We r never more ourselves than we r totally his!

    December 31, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
    • Sean Lynch

      We die to live

      December 31, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
    • 00 OOOOOOO000PS!

      Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;…

      January 3, 2014 at 2:46 am |
      • AvdBerg

        Funny. Our pharisees/athies. They like getting pulverized. They just keep coming back for more punishment or they pretend to ignore

        January 3, 2014 at 10:26 am |
      • grannytenderstone

        amen!!!

        January 6, 2014 at 12:12 am |
  8. EX Catholic

    Ridiculous! He is a puppet of the Curia and an accomplice of the Vatican. His so called "freedom" is a fake, this is all a PR op. Freedom could be if he could use his own birth name, the one given him by his parents, he is not free to do it. This is just such a Fake nothing more than a show off of a Politico-religious organization with financial interests in and of the world.

    December 28, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • Felice Calderon

      This vitriolic comment sounds like coming from an hate-filled atheist or an angry ultra-conservative pretending to sound like a hate-filled atheist!

      December 28, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
      • Mary

        Jeremiah 16:20-21
        New International Version (NIV)

        20 Do people make their own gods?
        Yes, but they are not gods!”

        21 “Therefore I will teach them—
        this time I will teach them
        my power and might.
        Then they will know
        that my name is the Lord

        December 28, 2013 at 11:30 pm |
      • EX Catholic

        Can't disprove what I said huh Calderon?

        December 29, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
  9. Keith

    That is what I think when I think of this Pope, Springtime

    December 27, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
    • doobzz

      "In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love." – Alfred Lord Tennyson

      December 28, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  10. Dyslexic doG

    definition: "faith" - believing something without a single shred of proof.

    it amazes me that religious folk see this word as a badge of honor while any logical thinking person sees it as a mark of foolishness or insanity.

    quite a disconnect.

    December 27, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • NYCBOB

      That's not the definition of "faith". Though I like how you misquoted a citation-less definition to mold to your misguided narrative.

      Here is the real definition of faith, Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2013: "Belief in the existence of God : strong religious feelings or beliefs."

      December 27, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
      • EX Catholic

        Don't hope for doG to be logic he/she/it is DUI.

        December 28, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
      • Dandintac

        Well, that is one of the dictionary definitions of "faith"–sure. But how is it actually used?

        "NOTHING can shake my Faith" a person declares. You note the lack of evidence. You point out the enormity and absurdity of the claims. "Nothing can shake my faith".

        There is the dictionary definition, but one can see the practical use of the word. It is a word used to justify belief, when there is no rational reason to do so. It is the the substi-tute for hard evidence. "I don't need evidence–I have FAITH". Or, "...for those who have faith, no evidence is needed." Maybe Merriam-Webster needs to add an additional definition, based on how the word is used in the real world.

        December 28, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
  11. Dyslexic doG

    In the 4th century CE, Christianity imported the pagan Saturnalia festival hoping to recruit the pagan masses in with it. Christian leaders succeeded in converting to Christianity large numbers of pagans by promising them that they could continue to celebrate the Saturnalia as Christians.

    The problem was that there was nothing intrinsically Christian about Saturnalia. To remedy this, these Christian leaders named Saturnalia’s concluding day, December 25th, to be Jesus’ birthday.

    The New Testament gives no date or year for Jesus’ birth. The earliest gospel – St. Mark’s, written about 65 CE – begins with the baptism of an adult Jesus. This suggests that the earliest Christians lacked interest in or knowledge of Jesus’ birthdate.

    Christianity: centuries of shameless fraud on a grand scale.

    December 27, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • NYCBOB

      Citations/proof, please. Or are you continuing to make up "facts" like your previous posts?

      December 27, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • Yule

      Saturnalia was for ancient Romans. Many pagans celebrate Yule. Also most Christians do not think of 12/25 as "Jesus's birthday", in fact some sects do not celebrate it at all.

      December 27, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
    • EX Catholic

      Atheistic doG as usual with atheists, intends to confuse and make belief that the RCC is "The church". That is because is "convenient" for his foolish shenanigans.

      December 28, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
      • lol??

        The Celtics were into breedin' German shepherds. Poor dog is old, BTW, and can't learn any new tricks.

        January 1, 2014 at 2:57 am |
      • lol??

        Church means circle.

        January 1, 2014 at 3:01 am |
  12. wulfranoruizsainz

    Simple. He is a worldly Pope.

    December 26, 2013 at 5:34 am |
    • EX Catholic

      Know anyone who was not? They all have been!

      December 29, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
  13. Austin

    vain repeti.tions......vain is the adjective, repetions is the center of attention and noun
    be obedient

    the other serious problem for you millions of catholics is this verse
    “For there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

    If you EVER FIND, another verse in the new testament that says there are ANY OTHER mediators, then you can go back to the catholic church with a clean conscience.

    If you can not find another verse, and if you can't change the definition of "ONE", then you need to step into obedience and make sure that you never go to any other mediator, such as Mary, or any saint, or an Angel, in prayer.

    December 25, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
    • sam stone

      like the vanity of believing that the creator of the universe deeply desires a personal relationship with you?

      December 26, 2013 at 6:14 am |
      • 00 00

        Dyslexic doG

        In the 4th century CE, Christianity imported the pagan Saturnalia festival hoping to recruit the pagan masses in with it. Christian leaders succeeded in converting to Christianity large numbers of pagans by promising them that they could continue to celebrate the Saturnalia as Christians.

        The problem was that there was nothing intrinsically Christian about Saturnalia. To remedy this, these Christian leaders named Saturnalia’s concluding day, December 25th, to be Jesus’ birthday.
        The New Testament gives no date or year for Jesus’ birth. The earliest gospel – St. Mark’s, written about 65 CE – begins with the baptism of an adult Jesus. This suggests that the earliest Christians lacked interest in or knowledge of Jesus’ birthdate.
        Christianity: centuries of shameless fraud on a grand scale.

        is she the funniest complete idiot of all time?

        January 11, 2014 at 4:00 am |
        • 00 00

          she is hitlerite. the bigger the lie the more will believe.

          January 12, 2014 at 12:30 am |
    • Reality # 2

      The Timothy epistle was not written by Paul and therefore has no divine guidance.

      December 26, 2013 at 8:14 am |
    • Reality # 2

      Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

      Current problems with these other religions:

      Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

      December 26, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • Maddy

      Now you are attempting to tell other people how to pray?
      Stop it. Just... Stop it.
      Rituals are present throughout the Bible.
      Stop your religious bigotry.

      You seriously need to step back from your derision of other Christians and examine your own motives into why you feel the need bash other Christians.

      December 26, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
      • sam stone

        Come on, Maddy, we all know that Austin is god's official spokesman

        Austin and Gopher

        Austin, Gopher and Larry of Arabia

        Ausin, Gopher, Larry of Arabia and Robert Brown

        Austin, Gopher, Larry of Arabia, Robert Brown and JW

        Austin, Gopher, Larry of Arabia, Robert Brown, JW and Fred

        Austin, Gopher, Larry of Arabia, Robert Brown, JW, Fred and AE

        Austin, Gopher, Larry of Arabia, Robert Brown, JW, Fred, AE and Sharon

        Austin, Gopher, Larry of Arabia, Robert Brown, JW, Fred,AE, Sharon, Jeebus Beloved, Opposing View, etc etc etc

        If god is all powerful, why does he need these dimwits to stand up for him?

        December 27, 2013 at 7:30 am |
        • Dyslexic doG

          now there's a list of denial and delusion.

          December 27, 2013 at 11:56 am |
        • *

          add @Live4Him & Russ!

          December 27, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          Out of that list... AE isn't that bad of a bloke (assuming AE is a dude)

          December 27, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
        • Dandintac

          It is better to attack ideas rather than people.

          December 28, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
        • grannytenderstone

          He doesn't. satisfied? He also doesn't need humans being the freaking jerks they often are, but he gave us that choice. It's up to each of us to take the high road whenever we can manage it, and KNOW. not believe, but KNOW, as in gnosis. I have pure gnosis. I have no doubts, pure inner peace, and indestructible happiness. Soldiers could come and shoot me right now and there would be not a shred of fear, I fear NOTHING, because i have pure faith and knowing. bless you.

          January 6, 2014 at 12:17 am |
    • lol??

      Check out the evolution of angels, heroes, and workin' yer way up to being a mediator. The Herodians were of that mindset and were into aborting born babies. Course they didn't have a proper birth certificate either.

      January 1, 2014 at 2:48 am |
  14. george

    That's your interpretation? It's in plain english.

    December 25, 2013 at 11:45 pm |
  15. Oh noes

    This idiot still hasn't corrected his first line....Christmas isn't movable. It falls on December 25th every year.
    Easter is the movable feast. Moron.

    December 24, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • scott

      You're the moron! He's saying Christmas was a moveable feast for him THIS YEAR and it came around Lent – because that's when we got a new Pope and it was a gift to us – like at Christmas...duh!!!

      December 24, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
      • Oh noes

        That's your interpretation. I don't see it that way...now fuck off. No idiot can ever see Christmas as movable....pedophiles apologist....duh!

        December 24, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.