Tag: Pope Francis

Shoe Leather Evangelization

Most of us are just getting to know Cardinal Bergoglio, the man who is now Pope Francis. Anyone with access to the Interwebs can now be an “expert” after a…

Most of us are just getting to know Cardinal Bergoglio, the man who is now Pope Francis. Anyone with access to the Interwebs can now be an “expert” after a few searches.

As I learn more about Bergoglio, I’m struck by his simplicity and humility, as are many others. His sincere and prayerful countenance when he first greeted the world yesterday made a strong impression.

We don’t know much about how he ran the chancellory in Buenos Aires, but we do know that he lived a simple life and practiced evangelization in a concrete and tangible way: by hitting the pavement. We’ve been tossing about the term “new evangelization” for many years, but it hasn’t been clearly defined. In many cases, it has been a source of encouragement for more writings and more conferences. All well and good, but what does it mean, what does it look like, and how do we engage in it? Cardinal Bergoglio seems to have given a profound witness in the way in which he lived his life as Archbishop with the people. In the truly Catholic tradition, he didn’t wait for his flock to come to him. He went to his flock, serving the poor and needy himself. He practiced and encouraged his priest to do likewise what we call shoe leather evangelization.

For a long time, we’ve known that local works better. And evangelization is no different. People come to the faith because of a personal encounter, typically with an individual, but ultimately with Christ. Doctrine is important, but it means nothing if it is not lived.

Last month I gave a talk for the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture. Based on interviews I conducted with people who run successful catechesis programs for youth as well as my own experience of encountering substantial faith filled communities on secular university campuses across the country, I identified three components to every successful program:

  1. Create community by building relation, e.g. through friendship.
  2. Offer solid catechesis.
  3. Encourage and guide people in the development of a truly deep spiritual life which is the encounter with Christ.

The response of the cardinals and bishops at the meeting was quite moving. They understood this better than I. The second and thirds steps have to happen concomitantly. But the first step paves the way and sustains the journey.

Maybe it was their understanding of this very basic component absolutely essential for evangelization that was part of what led them to choose Cardinal Bergoglio as our new pope. I don’t know. No one outside the conclave knows, not even those who hint at insider information whether from this conclave or the one in 2005.

But my inclination is that Francis, like his various namesakes, will be encouraging an evangelization that involves meeting people where they’re at (not unlike Christ himself) and witnessing the faith in very small, personal ways. Once we start that, we just might see the springtime that John Paul II foretold.



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Pope Francis Takes A Cue From Benedict: Prayer

Ok, I’ll just dive in. What struck me most about Pope Francis’ first public appearance was his apparent humility and his focus on prayer. First, he asked us to pray…

Ok, I’ll just dive in. What struck me most about Pope Francis’ first public appearance was his apparent humility and his focus on prayer. First, he asked us to pray for Benedict and he led the crowd in the piazza and all those listening and watching around the world in an Our Father, Holy Mary, and Glory Be. Granted, it was in Italian, but I think most anyone got a strong enough sense to join in.

Then, before giving his blessing, he asked us to pray for him.

And don’t miss the plenary indulgence (under the usual conditions) that he announced for everyone present, actually or virtually.

There’s been a lot of talk of what strengths the new pope would need. I’ve enjoyed many of these conversations and have learned a great deal.

But I constantly return to the fact that he needs to be a man centered in prayer. He will not be able to fulfill any of his duties (or our plans) without prayer.

On a personal level, I approached Lent somewhat distracted, but sensing a need to go deeper in my own prayer. I was in Rome just before Benedict announced his resignation and that sense of the need for prayer was not just my own. I met with various experts, all of whom I’m pretty certain are more solidly grounded in prayer than yours truly, and the conversations came down to prayer and penance…which was also the focus of Benedict’s message to us during his last few weeks as Peter.

There was an interesting interview by Paolo Rodari with Cardinal Cottier, papal theologian emeritus, whom I had the privilege of meeting several times before he retired. (The interview is in Italian, but you can probably get a good sense of it using Bing or Google translator.)

At one point, Cardinal Cottier says [my translation]:

“Certainly, the Pope is asking for penance for the internal error (sins/mistakes) above all. The errors do not represent the Church in her entirety, but they cannot be denied. The Pope, therefore, is asking [first] for an internal conversion and then a return to working for the good of the Church.”

Now our new Peter is calling us, just as Jesus did the apostles and disciples, to pray. I’m guessing that he’s not far in his sentiments from those expressed by Cardinal Cottier.

To me it’s a great consolation that he chose the name Francis. As a Jesuit, he might have in mind St. Francis Xavier who was responsible for the conversion of hundreds of thousands of people. But also perhaps he’s thinking perhaps of the humility and prayerfulness of St. Francis of Assisi, a man knowing for fostering peace, starting with the individual. At least, that’s my take on it. Feel free to agree or disagree. But let’s join together in prayer.



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