Before Pope Francis left Rio de Janeiro and World Youth Day behind July 28, he told millions of young pilgrims to go home and make a “mess.”
“I want us out there, I want the Church to get out into the street,” he told a group of Argentine pilgrims July 25. “I want us to avoid everything that speaks of worldliness, of comfort, of clericalism, of being closed in on ourselves.”
Things might get messy; Pope Francis might make people un- comfortable. But he makes a choice to live the Gospel ... and in doing so, he shows us the way.
Pilgrims interviewed in an Associated Press story July 27 said they believed the pope wanted them to speak out when they’re taught, or when they hear, ideas that conflict with Church teaching. Others were planning increased social advocacy. Regardless of how it’s done, the bottom line is that the pontiff is calling each one of us to evangelization.
Of course, that is quintessential Pope Francis. Even before he was elected, he was calling for a Church that should get out of itself and go to the peripheries — including his now famous comment: “When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential and then gets sick.”
One could look to Pope Francis’ World Youth Day schedule as a roadmap. In Rio, he pounded the streets, riding to and fro in his popemobile — open-air, so he could be in contact with the faithful. He visited a destitute slum; he embraced a drug addict. During Masses and other public events, he spoke plainly and lovingly to millions of young people. Then, just as journalists aboard the papal flight back to Rome were settling in for a good rest after an exhausting week, he engaged them in an 80-minute, on-the-record interview. It was a reporter’s dream. It was a press secretary’s nightmare.
Pope Francis fielded questions on the existence of a so-called “gay lobby” at the Vatican (he hasn’t seen any ID cards yet, he said), women in the Church (a deeper theology is needed, he said), his relationship with his “grandfather” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, troubles with the Vatican bank, and a potential date for the canonizations of Blesseds John Paul II and John XXIII. The pope’s comments specifically about homosexuality — “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?” — predictably were overblown by secular media outlets claiming the pope was paving the way for a change in Church teaching.
Fundamentally, however, Pope Francis simply was reflecting the Gospel message. He was living out his own call for a Church that comes out of itself to evangelize — one that is transparent and open.
On a plane full of journalists, the pope reiterated the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, but did so with his own style of humility, accessibility and candor. Did it stir the pot a little? Sure. But did it also show a candid, charming pontiff secure in the Church and the truth of Jesus Christ? Most definitely.
In his final message to the young people in Brazil, Pope Francis said: “It is worth taking risks for Christ and the Gospel.”
Pope Francis is a risk taker. He dodges security to be one step closer to the faithful. He visits places that would make most people squirm. He dialogues openly and transparently with the press. Things might get messy; he might make people uncomfortable. But he makes a choice to live the Gospel — even when it might mean ruffling feathers or making mistakes. And in doing so, he shows us the way. Make a mess, take risks for the Gospel and for Christ. Pope Francis is modeling his call for a reform of the Church — and he’s looking to us to get it started.