The journey to Brazil to take part in the World Youth Day which Pope Francis has just completed was a journey which already had a programme. Nevertheless the long itinerary that was not planned by the first American and Latin American Pontiff but arranged some time ago by his Predecessor enabled the Bishop of Rome, brought almost “from the ends of the earth”, not only to return to his native Latin America but also to introduce himself with a series of words and gestures, so clear and consistent that they might indeed be considered to have been planned in advance.
A Pope's first Encyclical usually outlines his main concerns and intentions and Lumen Fidei may be interpreted in this way. However the document is above all the unheard of response to an unprecedented event, as was the renouncement of Benedict XVI. Indeed, his Successor decided to make his own, with an authentic decision of humility and governance, a text that was nearing completion and which he himself concluded. This was a very powerful indication of continuity which confirms that in their obvious diversity they are both complementary and on the same wavelength.
Not by chance was Pope Francis' first international journey, preceded by the emergency visit to Lampedusa, so eloquent in its closeness to one of the most sorrowful tragedies of our time. Then the itinerary did not end even in participation in this successful “week for youth” which involved three million people from at least 178 countries, but through a decision of the Pontiff also included other strong evocative moments. Among these were first of all the prayer to Our Lady in the Shrine of Aparecida and again, on his return, in St Mary Major, where the Bishop of Rome had prayed before his departure. Further, sandwiched between these Marian pilgrimages was his visit to the Hospital of St Francis and to the favela of Varginha, then two meetings with the Bishops of Brazil and of Latin America and, lastly, an interview with a Brazilian television channel followed by the very long press conference with journalists on his flight back from Rio.
His meetings with the bishops and talks with the journalists, concentrated at the end of the journey, seem to have been particularly important. They confirm, at different levels, two fundamental strategic decisions of the papacy in the second half of the 20th century, which the Bishop of Rome now intends to develop with highly effective personal emphases: media communication and the synodal method. Under the banner of the Second Vatican Council, conceived of and opened by John XXIII, both these decisions are deeply indebted to the revolutionary decisions of Paul VI. His pastoral staff is used by Pope Francis who in Brazil also wore a red stole of his, with images of the Apostles Peter and Paul.
In meeting the journalists the Holy Father dealt simply with the matters discussed, without eluding any difficulty and, especially, steering clear of the self-referential approach , which he himself has several times denounced as one of the most damaging evils in the Church. Above all, however, the reflections Pope Francis offered the Bishops were programmatic indications that the Bishop of Rome entrusts to the entire Church. So that she will go out of herself and proclaim the Gospel.
St. Peter’s Square
Jan. 22, 2019
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