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Almost a short encyclical

Events during Pope Francis’ visit in Bolivia have thus far been yet another confirmation of the innovative and fundamental character of his travels. Consistent with the decision of Paul vi — who between 1964 and 1970 completed nine symbolic journeys around the world, continents visited afterwards by his successors — and naturally with the desire to witness to the joy of the Gospel (evangelii gaudium) described by the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in a brief speech during the preparatory meetings for the conclave which would elect him and then again in the first defining document of his papacy.

This is radically missionary perspective in which we need to understand the simply but eloquent gestures of Pope Bergoglio, who therein strengthens the presence of Catholic communities in the world and their bonds of communion. This is what he is doing in his homeland of Latin America, a place he clearly understands so well. It also explains the warmth with which the Pontiff is welcomed wherever he goes, no matter how difficult the situation is, and the interest his words incites, an effective and pure reminder of the Gospel.

Thus it was at Mass for the opening of the Eucharistic Congress, with a reflection on the seriousness of Christ’s attention to his people: “He looks at them in the eye, and he knows what they are experiencing, what they are feeling”. Jesus looks at us the way he looked at the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, who “sat on the roadside, pushed aside”, Francis said speaking to sisters, priests and seminarians, repeating that “we are witnesses not of an ideology, of a recipe, of a particular theology”, but of “the healing and merciful love of Jesus”.

It was this Gospel that inspired the long reflection — punctuated by some 60 rounds of applause — with which the Pontiff concluded the second World Meeting of Popular Movements. The address was like a short encyclical, introducing new language to Catholic social doctrine: “Neither the Pope nor the Church have a monopoly on the interpretation of social reality”, for history is made by each generation in the context of nations, as it “seeks its own path and respects the values which God has placed in the human heart”.

Pope Francis reiterated that, in proclaiming the Gospel, “the Church cannot and must not remain aloof” to the process of change — necessary, positive and “redemptive” — going on around the world. At the same time the Pope asked believers and non- believers alike to recognize how much the Church as done and still does to witness to the Gospel, even to the point of martyrdom. And Latin America is a place truly filled with her sons and daughters.

g.m.v.

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