By Mike James
In an appeal to priests around the world in the Mass of Chrism in Rome in March 2013 shortly after his election, Pope Francis urged them “This I ask you: be shepherds, with the “odour of the sheep”, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men.”
In word and deed since then Pope Francis has been setting the example of a merciful and loving pastor close to his sheep, even the smelly ones on the margins of the flock.
Last week he announced the names of 17 new cardinals to be formally inducted in Rome on 19 November on the occasion to mark the end of the Year of Mercy, 11 of whom are from dioceses which have never been represented by cardinals and who are notable for their records of pastoral, merciful care of their sheep, including Bangui, Central African Republic; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Mérida, Venezuela; and Tlalnepantla, Mexico.
It follows his appointments in 2014 of cardinals from among the world’s poorest countries Burkina Faso in Africa and Les Cayes in Haiti, and our own pastoral, humble and close to the people, Cardinal Kelvin Felix of Dominica. He is going to the peripheries of the church, selecting leaders who understand by experience the pastoral needs of the poor and how the church operates far away from the entrenched palace culture of the Vatican.
The UK Catholic Weekly The Tablet editorialized that the appointment a cardinal of Archbishop Mario Zenari, who represents the Holy See in war-torn Syria, “is a clear sign that regardless of whoever else has given up in despair over that conflict, Pope Francis is not one of them. It is a pastor’s message of solidarity not just to Syrian Christians who have suffered so much, but to all the millions of victims of this devastating multi-sided civil war.
In his first appointment of cardinals from the USA, the choices of pastoral, merciful leaders are apparent with the selections of Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin, and Bishop Kevin Farrell, last of Dallas and just appointed to head the newly created and vitally important Vatican Dicastery which brings together for the first time the responsibilities for Laity, Family and Life.
Indianapolis Archbishop Tobin who had earlier served as Secretary to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome has a solid history of support for the increasing role of women in the Church and particularly for US Women’s Religious Orders during a period in which they were under unsympathetic scrutiny by some sectors of the Vatican Curia
Cardinal Designate Bishop Kevin Farrell is a strong supporter of the process of the Synod’s on the family and on the subsequent Encyclical of Pope Francis on “The Joy of Love” (Amoris Letitia)
On the sensitive issue of the situation of divorced and remarried people Pope Francis wrote in the Post Synodal Exhortation:
“The Synod Fathers stated that, although the Church realizes that any breach of the marriage bond “is against the will of God”, she is also “conscious of the frailty of many of her children”. (p. 221)
The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment. (p. 227)
I am in agreement with the many Synod Fathers who observed that “the baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal. (p. 229)
Taking Pope Francis “Seriously” about smelling like sheep
In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter last week, cardinal-designate Farrell stressed that divorced and remarried people should be included “in all the ministries of the church.”
“That doesn’t mean that I’m telling you that they should receive Communion,” said Farrell. “That’s a process of discernment and of conscience.”
“I think that the document Amoris Laetitia is faithful to the doctrine and to the teaching of the church. This is a pastoral document telling us how we should proceed. I believe we should take it as it is.” Bishop Farrell added the exhortation will be the basis of his work in his new role just taken up as head of the Vatican dicastery on the Laity, Family and Life.
“That will be the guiding document without a doubt for the years to come,” said Farrell.
He added that in his first week in the new job he was spending most of his time listening to his staff members to learn about their work. “I’m just trying to listen to people,” said the cardinal-designate. “It’s not like I come with all brilliant ideas. I have to come, I have to learn, I have to listen for several months.”
By appointing leaders in the Church who smell like the sheep and listen to them, in the massive marginalized slums that border the city of Mexico, at the side of suffering and dying Syrian child victims of a senseless war, listening in merciful love like Christ himself to the marginalized in irregular unions, Francis leads by example and invites us to do the same