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Pope Francis bowed his head in prayer during his election night appearance on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 13, 2013. The crowd joined the pope in silent prayer after he asked them to pray that God would bless him.
Pope Francis bowed his head in prayer during his election night appearance on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 13, 2013. The crowd joined the pope in silent prayer after he asked them to pray that God would bless him.
Photo Credit: Paul Haring | Catholic News Service

10 years as pope: Pushing the Church to bring the Gospel to the world

For a decade, Pope Francis has guided the Church in a ‘new phase of evangelization, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality.’

VATICAN CITY — For a decade, even when discussing the internal workings of the Vatican, Pope Francis has insisted the Church is not the Church of Christ if it does not reach out, sharing the “joy of the Gospel” and placing the poor at the center of its attention.

Signals that his papacy would be different started the moment he stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica the evening of March 13, 2013: He was not wearing a red, ermine-trimmed cape, and he bowed as he asked the crowd to pray that God would bless him.

His decision not to live in the Apostolic Palace, his invitations to Vatican trash collectors and gardeners and other employees to join him for his daily morning Mass, his insistence on going to the Italian island of Lampedusa to celebrate Mass and pray for migrants who had drowned in the Mediterranean captivated the attention of the media.

But not everyone was pleased with the seeming ease with which he set aside pomp and protocol. And tensions within the Catholic community grew as he expressed openness to LGBTQ Catholics and to those living in what the Church considers irregular marriage situations and when he said in an interview in 2013 that the Church cannot talk only about abortion, gay marriage and contraception.

Pope Francis held the monstrance as he delivered his extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) during a prayer service in the portico of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 27, 2020. The service was livestreamed in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Photo Credits: Vatican Media
One kind of summary of his first 10 years as pope can be found in numbers: He has made 40 trips abroad, visiting 60 countries; in eight consistories he created 95 cardinals under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave and paid tribute to 26 churchmen over the age of 80; and he has presided over the canonizations of 911 new saints, including a group of more than 800 martyrs, but also Sts. John Paul II, John XXIII and Paul VI.

In his first major document, the apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” he laid out a program for his papacy, looking inside the Church and outside at the world to see what needed to be done to “encourage and guide the whole Church in a new phase of evangelization, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality.”

The document included a discussion of the need to reform Church institutions to highlight their missionary role; to encourage pastoral workers to listen to and stand with the people they were ministering to — his famous line about having “the smell of the sheep”; to deepen an understanding of the Church as “the entire people of God” and not as an institution or, worse, a club of the elect; to integrate the poor into the Church and society, rather than simply see them as objects of assistance; and to promote peace and dialogue.

St. Louis Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski has appreciated the way that Pope Francis is not afraid to challenge the Church — the archbishop included — “in deepening our faith and committing ourselves to caring for the poor, the environment and those who are on the margins of society,” he said.

Pope Francis’ ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ is the “Magna Carta for the Church in the 21st century. Often I go back to it to reread sections as I ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in my service as bishop.”

Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski
Pope Francis’ first apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“Joy of the Gospel”), is the “Magna Carta for the Church in the 21st century,” Archbishop Rozanksi said. “Often I go back to it to reread sections as I ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in my service as bishop.”

He will never forget Pope Francis’ visit to Lampedusa soon after the pope was elected.

“He spoke of the migrants who had died there trying to reach Europe and how this was a reflection on failure to see each other as brothers and sisters,” he said. “That visit has truly set the tone for Pope Francis’ papacy to connect the dots of having and living one’s faith fully in Christ.”

Pope Francis leads by example, Archbishop Rozanski said, which inspires him in his own episcopal ministry.

“He is not afraid to say or do the difficult things that need to be done to strengthen faith and to connect the living out of our faith to service of others,” he said. “One of the most influential sayings of Pope Francis for me is the comparison of the church to a field hospital: ministering to sinners with the compassion and care of Christ Himself.”

Sister Amy Diesen, OSF, St. Louis regional director for the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, shares both Franciscan and Ignatian spirituality with Pope Francis.

“St. Francis of Assisi had his powerful encounters with the lepers, and that was a big part of his conversion,” Sister Amy said. “I think that St. Francis and Pope Francis both live out their response to God through encounter.”

The Ignatian Volunteer Corps connects retired or semi-retired people with opportunities for direct service, spiritual reflection and community. Pope Francis’ example inspired Sister Amy to apply for her position as regional director and continues to shape the way she approaches her ministry, she said.

“Pope Francis talks a lot about accompaniment. It’s putting emphasis on the simple elements of encounter and reflection, in the Ignatian tradition,” she said. “To really encounter, you’ve got to go to the margins. You’ve got to be with the people.”

“Synodality is a way of being Church. It’s an ancient way of being Church that is being recovered and lived in the circumstances in which we face ourselves today. And so, to my mind, that’s sort of the capstone of what Pope Francis has been working for over the last decade.” - Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, said he believes the first 10 years of Pope Francis’ pontificate have been preparation for “what’s happening right now, and that’s the synodal conversation.”

Pope Francis kissed the foot of an inmate April 13, 2017, at Paliano prison outside of Rome as he celebrates Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The pontiff washed the feet of 12 inmates at the maximum-security prison.
Photo Credits: Vatican Media
The Second Vatican Council called Catholics to read the “signs of the times” and respond. And, the cardinal said, “this notion that we don’t have automatically prepared prescriptions for every challenge that faces us leads us to a fundamental tenet of our belief,” which is belief “in the Holy Spirit, the lord and giver of life.”

The synod process, which began with listening to people around the globe and will move toward two assemblies mainly of bishops, is about listening to the Holy Spirit.

“I’ve called synodality his long game,” the cardinal said. “He’s convinced that the changed circumstances of our world and our world going forward demand a new appreciation for the role of the Holy Spirit and a way to access that gift that is given to all of us by virtue of our baptism.”

Pope Francis goes “to the most problematic places where he thinks his presence can give way to positive developments, or where he can ‘turn on a light’ so that the world can see the reality of these places.” - Andrea Tornielli, editorial director of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication

Pope Francis has visited some of the poorest countries in the world, such as Mozambique and Madagascar in 2019 and Congo and South Sudan early this year.

In countries experiencing war, he has pleaded for peace as he did during a visit to the Central African Republic in 2015, and in nations recovering from conflict, he has promoted reconciliation as he did in Iraq in 2021.

He has returned to his native Latin America six times — but has never gone back to his native Argentina — and has traveled to every continent except for Oceania, which he was scheduled to visit in September 2020 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pope Francis has averaged four international trips each year of his 10-year pontificate even though he was unable to travel in 2020 due to the pandemic. He has visited 60 countries.

Yet just as notable as the countries Pope Francis has visited are those he has not: Spain, Germany and England, all visited by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Several of Pope Francis’ trips have reflected his commitment to interreligious dialogue. He became the first pope to visit several Muslim-majority countries: the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Bahrain, to advance dialogue with Muslim communities and condemn all forms of religious extremism with Muslim leaders.

“The teachings of Francis are transforming the spirit of the Church in our region. The greatest gift is reading his teaching.” - Father Máximo Jurcinovic, spokesman for the Argentine Conference of Bishops

While the pope has changed the global Church, the impact is palpable in Latin America, where national Churches throughout the region will commemorate his election March 13, 2013, by shining a light on his teachings, from his focus on the Amazon to the sweeping synodal process.

“Ecumenism was a key element of Francis’ tenure as archbishop and has continued into this papacy,” Father Jurcinovic said. He added that this was clearly seen when the pope traveled to South Sudan in early February with leaders of the Church of England and the Church of Scotland.

For Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, a Jesuit like Francis, the pope’s focus on the earth, especially the Amazon, and Indigenous peoples are two defining characteristics of his first decade leading the Church.

“I think the backbone of his papacy is with the poorest and those on the periphery. These first 10 years of Francis can be summarized in the four dreams about the Amazon in his postsynod commentary,” Cardinal Barreto said.

The four dreams are listed in “Querida Amazonia,” an apostolic exhortation released by the pope following the October 2019 Synod of Bishops of the Amazon Region.

Barreto said that while the pope refers to the Amazon, the dreams about the rights of the poor, preservation of cultural riches and nature, as well as Christian communities capable of commitment, are universal and guiding principles for the church in the world.

“He modeled humility and was able to say sorry when he was wrong. He has asked for help and has sought advice from our sisters and brothers who have been harmed, molested or abused by the church and its members.” - Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Bishops must foster the protection of minors “and they will be held accountable,” Pope Francis warned in a homily at Mass in 2014 celebrated for victims of abuse, delivering on that promise five years later with “Vos Estis Lux Mundi,” which revised and clarified norms and procedures for holding bishops and religious superiors accountable.

Pope Francis has built on the foundation left by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, said Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, who is director of the Institute of Anthropology: Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care at Rom e’s Pontifical Gregorian University.

Pope Francis put the problem of abuse and the need to protect the most vulnerable “on the agenda of the global Church,” Father Zollner said. It was a point he drove home when he convened a summit in 2019 for the presidents of bishops’ conferences, representatives of religious orders and heads of Vatican offices demanding concrete action by everyone.

Mark Joseph Williams, a survivor of clergy sex abuse, who serves as special adviser to Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, saidthat the pope is “a man of mercy and has shown the global Church why it is so critical to listen to the voices of victims/survivors.”

Pope Francis’ pontificate: A timeline

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Here is a timeline of some significant events in Pope Francis’ pontificate:

2013, March 13: Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, is elected pope on the second day of the conclave becoming the first pope from the Southern Hemisphere and the first non-European elected in almost 1,300 years. The Jesuit was also the first member of his order to be elected pope and the first member of any religious order elected in nearly two centuries.

2013, July 8: Pope Francis makes his first trip outside of Rome, choosing to go to the Italian island of Lampedusa to underline the plight of migrants crossing the Mediterranean and the countless lives lost at sea.

2014, June 8: Pope Francis, Israeli President Shimon Peres, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and others come together in the Vatican Gardens for an unprecedented gathering to pray for peace in the Holy Land.

2015, Sept. 19-27: Pope Francis travels to Cuba then to Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia during his first visit to the United States. He addressed Congress, the United Nations and the World Meeting and Families, canonized St. Junipero Serra and visited the 9/11 memorial in New York.

2015, Dec. 8: Pope Francis opens the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica to inaugurate a Holy Year of Mercy. He invited churches around the world to designate a holy door as a reminder of his call for reconciliation.

2016, Feb. 12-17: Pope Francis, on his way to Mexico, stops in Cuba to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow at the Havana airport and sign a joint declaration in the presence of Cuban President Raul Castro. In Mexico, he celebrated Mass in Ciudad Juárez, which borders El Paso, Texas. Hundreds of thousands of people attended the Mass, which included faithful on both sides of the border.

2017, April 13: Pope Francis goes to a maximum security prison to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper and washes the feet of 12 prisoners, including three women and a Muslim man, who was preparing for baptism. The celebration continued a practice he began as archbishop of Buenos Aires and performed every Holy Thursday as pope: including Catholics and non-Catholics, men and women, especially those who are marginalized in the foot-washing rite.

2018, Aug. 2: Pope Francis orders the revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to describe the death penalty as morally inadmissible and to affirm that the Church “works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

2018, April 21: Pope Francis appoints three women as consultors to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the first time women and laypeople were named as active contributors — not support staff. They joined a growing number of women the pope has named to top-level positions at the Vatican.

2019, Feb. 4: Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar mosque and university, sign the document on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” during an interreligious meeting in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

2019, Feb. 21-24: Pope Francis convenes a global summit on child protection and abuse, bringing together nearly 200 church leaders — presidents of bishops’ conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches, superiors of men’s and women’s religious orders, survivors and Roman Curia officials. The summit at the Vatican included a penitential liturgy.

2020, March 27: In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis prays and delivers his extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) during an evening prayer service from St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. St. Peter’s Square was empty, and the service was livestreamed.

2021, March 5-8: Pope visits Iraq amidst sporadic violence continuing in the country and COVID-19. He honored those who remained faithful and worked to rebuild the country.

2021, July 4: The pope undergoes a three-hour scheduled surgery at a Rome hospital to remove part of his colon. Officials said it was required to treat diverticulitis, when bulging pouches in the lining of the intestine or colon become inflamed or infected. Throughout his pontificate he has suffered bouts of painful sciatica, and knee problems led him to start using a wheelchair in 2022.

2022, July 24-29: Pope Francis makes “a penitential trip” to Canada to meet with, listen to and apologize to members of Canada’s First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities, especially those who experienced abuse or attempts at forced assimilation at Church-run residential schools.

2023, Jan. 5: Pope Francis presides over the funeral Mass for Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square. It was the first time in more than 200 years that a pope celebrated the funeral of his predecessor.

2023, March 13: Pope Francis celebrates his 10th anniversary as pope.

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