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JPR News and Views

Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Office, Priests of the Sacred Heart, US Province


Last month, I attended the Gaudium et Spes 50th Anniversary Conference at Notre Dame.  I've also been  reading Austin Iverleigh’s biography of Pope Francis, “The Great Reformer,” and the parallels were striking. The conference keynoter reminded us of the unresolved tensions since Vatican II between those who would have the Church “stick to the spiritual” and fully engage with the world, and the challenge of politicization when as a faithful people we try to apply Catholic social teaching to human affairs and government. Pope Francis has lived this tension.

Prior to becoming a bishop, Jorge Bergoglio was provincial of his local Jesuit community and later rector of their seminary, and the option for the poor was a driving passion  He sent seminarians into the nearby town to catechize the children and directly serve the poor, always with a focus on fostering human dignity and the common good.  It had an almost miraculous impact.  Not only was the impact of poverty greatly ameliorated, but local vocations, which had drastically declined, exploded.  While the government and many on the right saw him as a “commie” for preaching about the evils of neo-liberalism, those on the left, many in thrall to Marxist-influenced liberation theology, saw him as a throwback who helped the poor without questioning why they were poor.  "Progressive" members of his community were scandalized that he promoted rather than challenged the people’s ordinary piety and customs.  Eventually, his opponents had him removed from authority and ended his reforms. Vocations plummeted. 

All these years later, it looks like Francis is still taking the same approach, calling the Church to “get dirty” and be a “field hospital for the wounded.”  Iverleigh says that despite the media narrative that Francis went through some conversion from conservative to liberal, he actually was consistent his whole career.  Young Jorge, upon discerning his vocation, told his friends “…I’m going to be a priest.  But I’m not going to be a priest in a basilica.  I’m going to be a Jesuit, because I’m going to want to go out to the neighborhoods, to the villas, to be with people.”  Fr. Dehon would have been proud!  And I think Francis would be proud of the SCJ presence among the poorest of the poor, their schools, and things like the recent youth ministry initiative.  The more we take on Francis’ challenge to be a Church committed to the poor and engaged with "the people," the more we can hope to see “Bergoglio miracles” of more human communities, enthusiastic youth and increased vocations.

Quotes of the Month: 

[Mentioning the Bible's frequent use of the image of God as a judge...] "justice is understood as the full observance of the Law and the behavior of every good Israelite in conformity with God’s commandments.  Such a vision ... has not infrequently led to legalism by distorting the original meaning of justice and obscuring its profound value.  "To overcome this legalistic perspective, we need to recall that in Sacred Scripture, justice is conceived essentially as the faithful abandonment of oneself to God’s will." (Pope Francis, explaining his call for a Jubilee Year of Mercy in just-released "Misericordiae Vultus."

"Fiat" (Fr. Dehon throughout his priesthood)


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