I met Archbishop Dom Helder Carmara many years ago. He was the Archbishop of Olinda and Recife in Brazil. He reached out in a major way to the poor at a time when Brazil was under the control of a military dictatorship. Being a champion of the poor got him mixed reactions. I heard him say:
“When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist!”
As I was reading the prayer of the Church in the Office of readings on the Feast of SS Peter and Paul, Paul was quoted as saying that the Apostles insisted that Barnabus and Paul help the poor as a major request,
The way the poor were cared for by the early Church attracted attention from the pagan world around them, they were renowned for their care and compassion.
A Church that does not care for the poor is unhealthy. Certainly, Jesus spoke about the care of the poor as central to his mission.
Pope Francis, in his writings, has spoken about the care of the poor countless times. This, together with the care of many other disadvantaged people such as asylum seekers, First nations people in the amazon and elsewhere, etc., has also brought him criticisms.
Like Dom Helder he has been wrongly accused of communist tendencies by some very rich and powerful people.
He has also reached out to those who are spiritually disadvantaged and ‘poor’. He has done this from the heart of authentic Catholic teachings and theology.
This has also incurred the anger of those who are more rigid and narrow in their interpretation of Church rules and moral theology, and Canon Law.
Those who are sufficiently informed about Catholic theology and the scriptures, will recognise that Pope Francis is speaking from very solid and very Catholic principles.
Indeed, the rigid and legalistic interpretation of the Mosaic law and other Jewish practices was something that Jesus criticised, especially as it was practiced by the Scribes and Pharisees.
I personally met People Francis twice last year. I really felt that I was in the presence of a true man of God, a disciple of Jesus, a humble and good man.
Those who know the history of the Church will know that there has been a number of movements right throughout history that have tried to take the Church in a more rigorous and narrow direction.
The Manichaeism, Gnosticism, the Albigension heresey, Jansenism, the excessive modernist movement, the Inquisition, etc. have all been examples of those strict, rigid movements making Christianity sound like it is for the ‘privileged few’.
Ideologies of left or right can take us away from the Gospel. Pope Francis is calling us to an authentic Catholic place of commitment to holiness, compassion, care of the poor and the environment, Only last Sunday Pope Francis reminded us that if we are true followers of Jesus we need to take up our cross and follow Him. There are no short cuts.
Simplistic, narrow interpretations of our Catholic practices can lead to a certain fundamentalism.
In times of change, fundamentalism can give us a false sense of security, it is a temptation attractive to some.
Alignment to those with power can also be a temptation to not be guided by the radicality of the Gospel, and to support the status quo.
Of course, there are others who want Pope Francis to ‘throw away the baby with the bath water!’ They get impatient with him for not ‘moving fast enough’ with reform.
He is criticised by both ‘left’ and ‘right’.
The Gospel is neither ‘left’ nor ‘right’. It calls to conversion, to being born again, to compassion, to the ‘crazy’ and ‘prodigal’ radical love that Jesus practiced.
It is interesting that there are some who want the Pope to go because h does not agree with their ideas! Maybe they are forgetting that the role given to him by God is indeed to call all of use, including them, to unity and communion in the Church.
We do not choose the Pope , God does!