There was this wonderful little sentence I read somewhere today: “Francis is a pope from Argentina, but a pope for the world”. It provides a nice reflection on the tension between the local contextual and the universal. The really interesting challenge will be how Pope Francis’ background context will enrich and color his universal service to the world. It struck me how much his context is different from that of the two previous popes, John-Paul II and Benedict XVI, who have been marked by the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. Francis comes from a different background, which is also very relevant for today’s world. Where he comes from, who he is, may help us to better understand the world in which we live and to better love it.
He was born in a migrant family – people who left their own native grounds. Francis is a person on the move, shaping a new reality by entering into a different world. This is the painful reality of many of our fellow human beings today, who are on the move because they have no alternative, because they want to live with dignity, they themselves and their children.
Francis was a young Jesuit provincial in one of the most cruel dictatorships, trying to serve, to accompany and to advocate in favor of suffering and persecuted people … under difficult and trying circumstances. Persecution and oppression, and the ambiguities of a world in which one fears for one’s own life as well as for the life of others, are the lot of many of us.
Francis lived in cities with tangible slums, amidst unacceptable inequalities. Our world is one of unacceptable inequalities, also at the planetwide scale. The new pope reminds us that these inequalities are unjust and affect and threaten the lives of all of us.
Francis lived in a country that suffered hard financial and economic hardship, a reality that is very real to so many people today.
Francis was the archbishop of a city that knows about secularization, where one may have to dig deep to be able to tap into one’s faith and where the discovery of one’s faith also means the unmasking of social injustice and exclusion.
These contexts – migration, dictatorship, slums, financial crisis, secularization – are the conditions of many people on our planet. I remember the vulnerable person on the Vatican balcony: a person who knows, a person whose simplicity of life reflects the solidarity with people forcibly on the move, with people persecuted by murderous regimes, with people deprived of the living conditions one might expect in our world, with poor people defenseless in the face of structures that dominate them, with people who need faith and hope. The choice of the name “Francis”, the clear reference to the following of Christ in his first Eucharist and the call not to succumb to pessimism in his address to the cardinals: they express the hope and strength this pope will transmit precisely in today’s world, there where it bleeds.
Why am I not surprised when I meet so many people who take heart when they see him?