The most striking and enduring image that emerges from Pope Francis’ apostolic journey in Latin America is perhaps that of a “festival”. This was fully evident at the farewell ceremony in Paraguay, full of music and color, exemplifying the spontaneous, popular atmosphere that characterized the entire trip. It was a reflection, or at least was perceived as such, of the Gospel joy which lies at the heart of the missionary outreach of Francis’ entire pontificate.
Many people have noted Pope Francis’ extraordinary ability to communicate, and this week in Latin America he demonstrated why. It was evident whenever he remarked how at home he felt, but it was particularly evident in his interactions and the way in which he dialogued with others. It was perceivable in his words, but it was especially visible in his gestures, so full of tenderness and intimacy, as when he visited a paediatric hospital in Paraguay, as well as when he visited Bañado Norte, a neighborhood on the periphery of Asunción.
There is little doubt that the thousands who participated in the Pope’s meetings with young people and civic leaders will forever treasure their conversations with His Holiness. On more than one occasion Bergoglio neatly summarized the content of his prepared talks, while on other occasions — as during his meeting with young people as the sun set over the banks of the Paraguay River — he preferred to improvise his responses after hearing personal testimonies from the participants. He also broadened the conversation to include the thousands who were present, summarizing the essential points of his reflections and having the crowd repeat them.
Pope Francis has an extraordinary ability to captivate the attention of whomever he is talking to, opening the meaning of the Gospel to them as a reality enlightening every person in his or her particular circumstances. Thus it was at the Marian shrine in Caacupé and during the meeting at Bañado Norte where he highlighted the theme of the Holy Family. It is precisely his twofold attention to today’s realities and the proclamation of the Gospel that helps us avoid the trap of ideology or idolatry.
The Holy Father’s words and testimony are crystal clear although it is possible to manipulate and exploit them by simply pulling them out of context. Bergoglio himself drew attention to this during his extended in-flight conversation with journalists on the way home. The partial or distorted readings usually serve to promote one’s own agenda, and they are almost always ideological, even though it is clear the Pope has never wanted to take part in partisan politics to resolve particular political questions; he only wishes to draw attention to the Gospel and Catholic teaching as he did in his closing speech at the second World Meeting of Popular Movements in La Paz.
Among the many events scheduled during this apostolic visit, it is significant how much time the Pope dedicated to meeting with local Bishops. These encounters were marked by fraternity, followed no formal protocol, and allowed for effective communication and a strengthening of the essential bonds that make up the Catholic communion. The Pope invited us to open ourselves every day to the joy of the Gospel, which one ancient Christian author described as the “festival” the Risen Christ comes to enliven in the heart of every human person.
St. Peter’s Square
April 26, 2019
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