February 19, 2023: Peacebuilding as the Cornerstone of Pope Francis’ Vision for the Church

Feb 10, 2023

As we approach the tenth anniversary of Pope Francis’ pontificate, it is an appropriate time to reflect on what impact he has had on the church and the world. He is the first Latin American pope, the first Jesuit pope, and the first pope to choose the name of Francis. All three of these distinctive features have impacted his papacy in a meaningful way.

On the night of his election, as he was presented to the world on the balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica, he said that the cardinals had gone “to the ends of the earth” to find a bishop of Rome. The statement was true geographically, but I think we have come to know that he also meant that he comes from the developing world, from the marginalized sectors, from what he frequently refers to as the “peripheries.” As pontiff, he has insisted that the whole church look to the peripheries, to the margins, to hear their voices, to affirm their human dignity and rightful place in the human family and in the church, and even more because he is convinced that the margins are where we will find Jesus today.

As a Latin American, Francis brings the whole experience of the Latin American church since Vatican II. Latin America is arguably the place where Vatican II had the greatest impact on the renewal of the church. An episcopal conference of all Latin America, transcending national boundaries, led the church there to the conversion to mission that Pope Francis invites the universal church to experience. The Latin American Bishops’ Conference emphasized a “preferential option for the poor” where the church had been aligned with the powerful ever since the original evangelization sponsored by the Spanish crown. They also committed to mission over maintenance and the importance of forming missionary disciples, seen now as part of Francis’ agenda for the whole church.

Francis’ Ignatian spirituality is visible in his broad approach to consultation, his commitment to discernment without hurry, and ultimately to an authoritative direction for implementation. He has called for the church to be a field hospital and has asked pastors and pastoral ministers to accompany people and discern with them the path forwards in their individual and family situations. Rather than rejecting those whose lives are inconsistent with their baptismal promises or the call of the gospel, Francis wants to meet them where they are and walk with them toward conversion. This means discovering where God is already active in their lives and inviting them to a fuller response. Discernment can be messy and doesn’t always lead to the desired or expected results.

Faithful to his namesake, Francis has not only become a voice for the poor and powerless but also sees the importance of preserving the gifts of creation and celebrating the interrelatedness of all that God has made. In both Laudato Si, his environmental encyclical, and in Fratelli Tutti, written in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic, Francis uses the language and the imagery of Saint Francis of Assisi with a very contemporary application to relationships among human beings and with all of creation.

Catholic Social Teaching is not a specialization of theology but is central to the life and mission of the church. Francis has written social encyclicals with a sense of urgency for a world in crisis because he knows that what humanity most needs is available in an encounter with Jesus Christ and by striving to live by his gospel. The Church must be an instrument of peace and work for the unity of God’s children to be faithful in her mission and of service to humanity today.

— John Stowe, OFM Conv., Bishop of Lexington, Kentucky

Join us on Monday, February 27th at 7 PM (in Wallace Hall & Livestreamed) as Bishop Stowe presents Peacebuilding as Cornerstone of Pope Francis’ Vision for the Church: Pope Francis brings both Ignatian and Franciscan sources to his vision for the church, strengthening it as a force for peace and reconciliation in the world.