Pope Francis celebrates a homeless man's 50th


Pope Francis in St Peter's Square

Last week Bishop Konrad Krajewski, the Papal almoner, installed showers for people who are homeless, in St Peter’s Square. The move followed his meeting a homeless man, discovering it was his fiftieth birthday and inviting him to dinner in a local restaurant, only for the man to decline on the grounds he smelled.  

The gesture was seen to have Pope Francis’ finger prints all over it. It also illuminates the differences of perspective many have noted between the Pope and other church leaders, such as Cardinals Pell and Burke and Archbishop Chaput.

People have variously named the opposing approaches as liberal and conservative, pastoral and doctrinal, democratic and authoritarian.  These labels have their uses but also their limitations. They are evaluative rather than explanatory: rigid conservative is contrasted with flexible liberal, or principled doctrinal with wishy washy, compromising pastoral. The terms better describe the self-positioning of their users than the positions of their targets.  

They also suggest that the roots of difference lie in theory or in personality. I believe they lie rather in the different imaginative worlds that Pope Francis and those who differ from him inhabit. When Pope Francis looks at the human world he focuses on human beings as concrete and human, not as abstract nor as members of particular religious or other groups. God loves and respects each human being, and so invites Catholics to go out to all people and to welcome them because they share a common humanity and are each precious to God. 

Because he sees human beings concretely, Pope Francis is affronted when he sees them treated without respect for their dignity, and asks why this happens. He finds the answer in the greed and the imbalance of power and wealth that distort society.  So he consistently attacks the idolatry of economic theories that enable people to make the impoverishment of the poor an unfortunate but unavoidable economic fact rather than the result of human decisions. 

Pope Francis calls on Catholics to go outside the comfortably Catholic world to be with people with whom they share a common humanity. In this they follow Jesus who sought to win people. He did not judge people but engaged with them, and through the encounter opened to them the freedom and joy of the Gospel. The building of showers for homeless people in St Peter’s Square embodies perfectly this project. 

The changes that the Pope wishes to make to governance flow out of this imaginative vision.  He wants the governance of the Catholic Church to encourage and fit people to find the centre of faith by going to the margins of church and society. In practice this means appointing people with this vision to lead churches and making the central organs of government enabling rather than controlling. 

Although Cardinal Pell, Cardinal Burke and Archbishop Chaput differ among themselves, their imaginative world and rhetoric are very similar. They focus on human beings as Catholic, not simply as human.  This is natural because as Bishops they have been responsible for Catholics. 

They then ask what factors prevent so many Catholics from appreciating the richness of Catholic faith and life.  They trace the failure to harmful ideological currents that are dominant in society, become enshrined in policy and legislation and infect Catholics. These currents are often described as secularism.  

They wish Catholics to have a right understanding of faith, a disciplined practice and a rich devotional life. The focus is on forming Catholics who will be united in in confronting secularism and other ideologies. Their going out into the world will be inherently combative.  

For them church governance needs to be reformed in order to protect the truth, to ensure discipline and unity in faith and practice, so that the Catholics are cohesive and disciplined, sure of what they stand for and faithful in living out their faith. 

I have stressed the differences in these approaches to the Catholic Church and its present tasks. But what the Pope and these Bishops have in common is greater.  Both wish to preserve and hand on Catholic faith as it has come down to them. In that respect they could be called conservative. They  differ about the processes and language through which it is best commended.

Both are critical of central aspects of contemporary society and its ideologies. For Pope Francis these have primarily to do with the misuse of power and wealth; for the others, with disregard for the value of life and of faithful relationships.

Each is concerned both with the Catholic world and the secular world. Each is committed to going out into the secular world: one in a confrontational way and the other in a welcoming way.

Both want effective structures of governance, one to encourage Christians to go out, the other to strengthen a distinctively Catholic coherence in life and practice. Both might see St Peter’s Square as a symbol. For one the focal point will be the Pope preaching in the Basilica with all the power of his office; for the other it will be the Catholics volunteering to serve homeless people through the showers at the edge of the square.

Both these approaches are Catholic. Each poses questions to the other. In my judgment that of Pope Francis uniquely offers hope for the future.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Pope Francis image by Shutterstock.


Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, homelessness, Pope Francis, Vatican, Catholic Church, social inclusion, ecclesiology



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Existing comments

'For one the focal point will be the Pope preaching in the Basilica with all the power of his office; for the other it will be the Catholics volunteering to serve homeless people through the showers at the edge of the square' - so discerningly and beautifully put. Would that the 'princes of the church' would emulate the servant leadership displayed by Jesus Christ.

Barry G | 19 November 2014  

The corporal works of mercy is as follows: To feed the hungry; To give drink to the thirsty; To clothe the naked, after they have had a refreshing shower in a clean bathroom - Pope Francis.To harbour the harbourless; To visit the sick; To ransom the captive; To bury the dead.

human dignity | 19 November 2014  

When I read this article about Pope Francis, Andrew, I was reminded of what the late Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh - one of the few deceased (or living) ecclesiastics I have much time for - said about Jesus: that was that he didn't want to found an institution like any other institution per se but to change the world. That is something I think the Pope intuits by grace and I suspect it didn't just come to him without much life experience and openness to the world and its suffering. There is nothing "wrong" about the Roman Catholic Church per se but I think its functionaries sometimes lose their way when they see it as a grand ecclesiastical institution with a set way of doing things. The Pope - for all the commentariat of all ecclesial "colour" and wishes - is perfectly orthodox but he lives in and by the Spirit, which is a grace, but it is also something which you can, humbly, prepare yourself for by following Christ. It says a lot for the "examples" we are shown by professional ecclesiastics that most people seem to ignore them and their pontifications and look to the Pope who is a living example.

Edward Fido | 19 November 2014  

Father Hamilton I tick off your facile litany of the Catholic oriented priests promulgated from the ES ivory tower of reductionist ideas, assigned willy nilly to exceptional men like Cardinal Pell etc.who spent hours in hospital and my rehab listening and heartening myself riddled with bowel cancer and major hemiplegic stroke. Such solicitude is for many others also. Both of us erstwhile curates who at different times visited the poor and sick in faraway Swan Hill Victoria. Myself a 'Catholic apologist'; sat in a Swan Hill property as aboriginals passed around the encircled fire, whiskey bottles[myself a non drinker, but "farva" was appreciated there; and at Walcha NSW parish mission in an aboriginal 'lean-to', affirming the Roman Catholic Faith as if in Vatican Basilica, and then on to Alice Springs apostolate-judge not the varied and rich person oriented apostolate of priests[at death beds or roadside accidentsof rich and poor [ myself 5 years at Rookwood necropolis] - whether pastors, become prelates or pathetic crippled rehab cases! Viva Pell etc. axe ES PC slick, high bound, pseudo sophistry reductionisms. [No RC priests deals only with catholics!!!!!]

Father John George | 19 November 2014  

Thanks so much Andy for this insightful article. I really enjoyed how it invites common ground and highlights the simple yet radical actions of Pope Francis in a way that captures my imaginings of how Jesus acted!

Kate Garrone | 20 November 2014  

one group to define and then defend the boundary - the other to disssolve it fascinating idea about imaginative worlds and how they shape our view of the world itself . another good days reflection on the way gratefully bought to me by Eureka Street

paul coghlan | 20 November 2014  

What your comparison of Francis with other conservative Church dignitaries says to me, Fr Hamilton, is that the latter are immersed in a language created by the Church in its theology which only the creators understand and which is largely unintelligible to the common man. Francis' language in contrast resides in his actions which all men can understand. One wonders what the masses of Catholics for renewal and reform think of such actions coming from a celibate old man wearing a long dress who by their definition (and like all the Catholic clerical hierarchy) can't possibly understand anything about human relationships, needs and wants. This Pope is indeed a cracker - more than a bit like The Nazarene.

john frawley | 20 November 2014  

I love this Pope. I don't say this lightly.

Moira | 20 November 2014  

when I read what the Holy Father is doing I am enlightened - I can understand where he is coming from as an Indigenous Catholic from Australia I do hope he can make changes to barriers which has excluded people from faith and their basic human rights across the world . God bless the father and ensure his vision of changes in the church is not stopped .

Diat Callope | 20 November 2014  

Dear Fr John George. There are indeed many good Catholic priests who carry out their chosen and ordained mission as you did and as do the Jesuits around the world - even those who inhabit ES! However, there are those who have not been faithful to their mission and are largely the cause of the diabolical situation in which the Church finds itself today. The good ones amongst your brotherhood suffer because of the bad, but fortunately, I hope, there are those faithful Catholics who have no difficultly in discerning the difference between the two.

john frawley | 20 November 2014  

Andrew thank you. It seems to me that of the different ways of language and processes used by our bishops and clergy to share the word of Jesus, there are just as many lay people.who also line up using different styles of language and actions . Our leaders need to set an example and educate us to an appropriate way. Consider what is said or not said in some conversations about care of the world and its resources, refugees , the homeless, and people with mental health issues , about the different styles of family ,about people addicted to alcohol or drugs.. Maybe we all need to redefine our ways of speaking and relating to others and then take. actions.Yesterday it was said that we still try to close the gate when the horse has bolted ,without realizing that we don't ride horses anymore.. Our world has changed. How do we need to speak and act today?,How can we listen with compassion and love. Definitely not in fear , self centredness , nor righteousness. Bless pope Francis and all his actions and bless those people, lwho understand the new paradigm and walk humbly beside our fellow human beings.

Celia | 20 November 2014  

This article helps to restore my loss of trust in the church, and I wonder if the difference between Pope Francis and the other cardinals is due to the fact that he came from a poor country and was trained by the Jesuits. Attitude plays a big part in how those with nominated power behave; bishops and cardinals seem to develop an ‘air’ of great self-importance which prevents them from seeing the poor and needy in their own back yard. Boldness and power are attributes which can be used wisely if these people can be humble enough to change and grow. The Templeton prize winner (2004) George Ellis says: a true ethical life is self-emptying and based upon love, compassion, generosity. In order to regain our trust all cardinals must learn to grow and change in their attitude; they must show no signs of hypocrisy, no narcissism and above all strive to mirror Trinitarian goodness.

Trish Martin | 20 November 2014  

Bishop Terry suggested he and Fr Brendan also consider installing such bath rooms for the homeless who live and frequent the area around St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney during one of his homilies at the Cathedral last week. Suggesting also all churches around the world should install sparkling clean bathrooms near by. Moreover, I believe it would be a most revealing 'spiritual exercise' this Advent if all parishioners / volunteers, assisting the homeless, had themselves a shower totally naked, in one of the current rundown and grimy bathrooms offered to the homeless to shower in the area of some parishes / soup kitchens, in order to understand how morally and spiritually degrading, for a any person, taking such a shower in such a run down facility, truly is.

human dignity | 20 November 2014  

Well said, Fr George (as usual). There's a fair bit of false opposition going on in this piece. Some of the most successful religious orders today are both thoroughly orthodox and motivated in that orthodoxy (and discipline) to helping the poor in the world: the Missionaries of Charity, Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal spring to mind. True, these orders are unashamedly "combative". They have no choice but to be ... against Satan and his works in the world, and for the sake of his victims, potential and actual. Archbishop Chaput puts it aptly; "...Christ never absolved us from resisting and healing the evil in the world, or from solidarity with the people who suffer it. Our fidelity is finally to God, but it implies a faithfulness to the needs of his creation [eg. showers. HH]. Like it or not we are *involved*-- and there is, after all, a war on (Ephesians 6:12). It's the same conflict Tolkien meant when he wrote that "[human] wars are always lost, and The War always goes on." It's the same conflict C.S. Lewis meant when he wrote that "there is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan." And this war goes on without rest in every age, in every nation, in every human life, in every choice, in every decision, in every action, in every public issue. We can choose our side. We can't choose not to choose. Not to choose is a choice." ["Render Unto Caesar" p. 54]

HH | 20 November 2014  

Palms volunteers live this philosophy daily. Our volunteers gain a unique insight into another culture, as they live not at a detached distance, but immersed in the everyday lives of local people. They live simply and humbly with their hosts, initially outside of their comfort zones. However, as their placement continues, they begin to feel at home in their host community. And, over two years, a Palms Volunteer exchanges skills which enable the continued sustainable development long after they return home. Great article Andrew.

Palms Australia | 20 November 2014  

Yet again, Pope Francis shows Christ to others. I couldn't help but think of parts of our new translation of the Mass when I read your words "God loves and respects each human being, and so invites Catholics to go out to all people and to welcome them because they share a common humanity and are each precious to God." Reference to ALL people when at the Consecration we use the words "poured out for many". I have always believed Christ died for all men. The words at the beginning of the Gloria seem to exclude people as well when we pray "peace to men of goodwill". Do only those of goodwill deserve God's peace? Maybe our Mass words need the inclusivity of Pope Francis. May God bless him with many years of being Christ to us!

Cath Guilfoyle | 20 November 2014  

" the man declined on the grounds he smelled.." The gesture was seen to have Pope Francis’ finger prints all over it."... As a gesture is was a step in the right direction, raising consciousness of the plight of disadvantaged people. But even for the man involved it was not a real solution, as bodily odours are transmitted to the clothes worn, and even if the. man showered his clothes would continue to offend delicate noses. What is needed as a further step towards a more equitable and caring society, is hostels such as the Matt Talbot ones where showers, laundry and hopefully further assistance is available, for those needing help.

Robert Liddy | 20 November 2014  

Thanks Andrew. Francis' actions are a testimony to the power of symbol.in cementing reform. I find parallels in Noel Pearson's recent eulogy for Gough Whitlam: "this old man was one of those rare people who never suffered discrimination but understood the need for protection from its malice'', his placing in the hands of Vincent Lingiari 'this piece of earth as a sign that we restore them (these lands) to you and your children forever" and his government 'the textbook case of reform trumping management'. Our own local Church is researching practical ways to better welcome those in need into our community - Francis' example is concrete, liberating and imaginative.

Denis Quinn | 20 November 2014  

Thank you, Andrew. After reading so much commentary that is bitterly angry and oppositional, from both 'sides', it's good to see your appreciation of the strengths of both the so-called progressives and the so-called tradiitionalists. Your penultimate paragraph sums it up well. And no, Fr. John George, I didn't read any criticism at all in the word 'apologists'. The Church needs apologists. It needs its firm base in Tradition and its Spirit filled energy for change. It needs Pell and Kasper. Perhaps this Pope can unite these two essentials in his own person.

Joan Seymour | 20 November 2014  

What a fabulous article. It will not only develop a greater love for Francis and the Church, but it will encourage people to open their eyes to the poor around them. This article will also encourage readers to watch out for excellent articles from Eureka Street. Congratulations once again.

Breda O'Reilly | 20 November 2014  

Thank you for this article. It restores one's faith in the Catholic church to see such an example being set.

mary brabenec | 21 November 2014  

Mary Bebener there have been 2000 years of examples of outreach to the poor, not mere showers, bathrooms and toilets but food and housing[Pius XII opened convents, etc to fleeing Roman Jews dreading the word showers & SS advice " "Put shoes into the cubbyholes and tie them together so you will not lose them. After the showers, you will receive hot coffee." [Cf Buchenwald report]
Pius XII, recognised by Jew at later post war public audience, as pretend Capuchin monk darting around, leading Roman Jews to safety of Vatican rooms-the Swiss guards increased exponentially with young Jewish recruits-any wonder nazi tanks rolled down Via Conciliazione, to Vatican Border,to miraculously turn back as Pius pounded heaven in papal chapel with rosaries![cf,Osbourne Diaries, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Holy See 1936–1947[

Father John George | 22 November 2014  

God be Great in our Holy Father Francis. He has given me new hope! Blessings and prayers upon him!!!!!!!!

Jay Ludvik | 22 November 2014  

And also re exemplary papal charity, try this:
“Pius XII was the most warmly humane, kindly, generous, sympathetic (and, incidentally, saintly) character that it has been my privilege to meet in the course of a long life. I know his sensitive nature was acutely and incessantly alive to the tragic volume of human suffering caused by the War and, without the slightest doubt, he would have been ready and glad to give his life to redeem humanity from its consequences.”

– Sir Francis D'Arcy Osborne,

British Minister to the Holy See The Times (London), May 20, 1963

“It is understandable why the death of Pope Pius XII should have called forth expressions of sincere grief from practically all sections of American Jewry. For there probably was not a single ruler of our generation who did more to help the Jews in their hour of greatest tragedy, during the Nazi occupation of Europe, than the late Pope.”

- The Jewish Post (1958)
[All this before KGB/Khrushchev backed disinformation campaign of "The Deputy" 1963 Hochuth play. That KGB campaign substantiated by Soviet defector General Pacepa in 1978]

Father John George | 22 November 2014  

And finally even anticatholic New York Times lionised[canonised] Pius xii 1941 Radio Christmas message:

"No Christmas sermon reaches a larger congregation than the message Pope Pius XII \addresses to a war-torn world at this season. This Christmas more than ever he is a lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent. The Pulpit whence he speaks is more than ever like the Rock on which the Church was founded, a tiny island lashed and surrounded by a sea of war. In these circumstances, in any circumstances, indeed, no one would expect the Pope to speak as a political leader, or a war leader, or in any other role than that of a preacher ordained to stand above the battle, tied impartially, as he says, to all people and willing to collaborate in any new order which will bring a just peace."

Father John George | 22 November 2014  

While extolling pre Pope Francis outreach to downtrodden, call up the downfall of Soviet Empire and ensuing emancipation for millions.
"Gorbachev, once said, "the collapse of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II" [CNN.com] endorsed by Polish Communist President General Jaruzelski: "The revolution began with the Pope's trip home in 1979. That was the detonator."
He frankly admitted that one of the great ironies of the regime he served was how much they had underestimated Wojtyla. "My Communist colleagues decided that the Bishops ahead of Karol Wojtyla on the list of candidates were not good for the state, so they pushed Karol Wojtyla."

Father John George | 23 November 2014  

Thank you, Andrew, for a compassionate and insightful article which points us in the direction of Jesus' life, not the life of using power and authority. May we all do likewise in our own encounters and within our places of influence.

Jeff Telfer | 24 November 2014  

This article puts things very well. The comments are revealing too - interesting that people can take quite a long time describing their version of the Christian mission without mentioning the word love. I think I've said before that my Catholic upbringing taught me that Christianity was about judging, punishing and exclusion. A commenter mentioned hypocrisy, and I could have added that, too. I think people like me left the Church because we thought "If that's what Christianity is they can keep it". It was only being a wide (catholic) reader that brought me back to reading about Christianity. And in this Pope, for the first time in my adult life, I see a Pope who appears to be living Christ's message.

Russell | 25 November 2014  

Not many people mention that when Chaput became Archbishop of Philly, he sold the grand Archbishop's residence to the Jesuits to raise much needed funds for the diocese and he moved into an apartment in the seminary. He's also the Archbishop who recently said “If we ignore the poor, we will go to hell. If we blind ourselves to their suffering, we will go to hell. If we do nothing to ease their burdens; then we will go to hell. Ignoring the needs of the poor among us is the surest way to dig a chasm of heartlessness between ourselves and God, and ourselves and our neighbours.”

Campionsbrag | 26 November 2014  

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