In a lengthy speech to the Italian Church at large, Pope Francis said that true human and ecclesial advancement can only be achieved when founded on the humility and detachment of power exemplified by Christ. “We can speak of humanism only beginning from the centrality of Jesus, discovering in him the traits of the authentic human face,” the Pope said Nov. 10. He told those gathered to contemplate the face of Jesus, which is represented on the dome of the Florence’s Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral in an image of the final judgement. When we look at Jesus, “what do we see? Above all the face of a God who is emptied, of a God who has assumed the condition of a servant, humble and obedient unto death,” Francis said. The face of Christ resembles “so many of our brothers, humiliated, enslaved, emptied,” he said, explaining that God himself chose to take on their face. “And that face looks at us. If we don't lower ourselves we cannot see the face of God. We will not see anything of his fullness if we don't accept that God is emptied.” Pope Francis spoke to participants in the Fifth National Ecclesial Convention of the Italian Church, who are gathered in Florence for five days to discuss the theme, “A new humanism in Jesus Christ.” More than 2,000 people from 220 dioceses have traveled to Florence in order to set goals and an agenda for the national Church for the next 10 years. They met with Pope Francis Tuesday during his daytrip to the city. After making a brief stop in the nearby city of Prato, Francis paid a visit to the baptistery of the Florence cathedral, before meeting with the thousands gathered inside. In his speech, the Pope referred to the gathering’s theme, and said that Jesus Christ must be the central figure when thinking about a new, Christian humanism. Rather than painting an abstract picture of man or of this new humanism, Francis said he wanted “to present with simplicity some of the traits of a Christian humanism which is that of the sentiments of Jesus Christ.” He outlined three traits in particular, encouraging Italians to adopt an attitude of humility, of disinterest in worldly power and authority, and of beatitude, meaning to live according to the beatitudes. “These are not temporary, abstract feelings of the soul, but represent the burning inner strength which makes us able of living and making decisions,” he said. What they tell us is that “we shouldn't be obsessed with power, even when this takes on the face of a useful and functional power for the social image of the Church.” If the Church doesn't assume the sentiments of Jesus, “it is disoriented, because it loses its meaning,” Francis continued. However, if the Church does take on these sentiments, “it knows how to live up to its mission.” “The sentiments of Jesus tell us that a Church which thinks of itself and its own interests would be sad. The beatitudes, however, are the mirror in which to look at ourselves, which allows us to know if we are walking on the right path: it's a mirror that doesn't lie.” He quoted his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” saying that he prefers a “wounded” Church that is dirty from “being out on the streets” rather than one that is “concerned about being the center and which ends up trapped in a maze of obsessions and procedures.” In addition, Francis warned the Italian Church against two different temptations: the ancient heresies of Pelagianism and Gnosticism. Pelagianism, the heretical belief that human beings can obtain salvation on their own without divine assistance, “pushes the Church not to be humble, disinterested or blessed. And it does so with the appearance of good.” What this attitude does is lead one to put trust in structures, organizations and in “perfect plans,” however abstract. It also leads a person “to assume a style of control, of hardness, of normalcy.” This gives the Pelagian the security of “feeling superior, of having a precise orientation,” Francis observed. But Christian doctrine is alive and knows how to both unsettle and to enliven, he said. “It has a face that is not rigid, it has a body that moves and develops, it has a soft flesh: it is called Jesus Christ.” Reform of the Church, then, isn’t complete with endless plans to change structures, but instead means “rooting yourself in Christ” and allowing yourself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, he noted. On the topic of Gnosticism — the belief that the material world should be set aside in favor of the spiritual — Pope Francis said that this attitude leads us “to trust in clear and logical reasoning, but which loses the tenderness of the flesh of the brother.” The difference between Christian transcendence and any form of gnostic spiritualism, he said, “is in the mystery of the Incarnation.” Not putting this into practice “means building on sand, remaining in pure idea and denigrating into intimacies which bear no fruit, which render God's dynamism sterile.” Both people and prayer are needed in order to live out a humble, generous and happy Christian humanism, the Pope continued. He pointed to the example of set by St. Francis of Assisi and St. Phillip Neri, saying that if we lose contact with the faithful, we ourselves become lost and go nowhere. Pope Francis then told those present to look again at the face of Jesus on the cathedral’s dome, and asked what Jesus might be telling them as far as what to do next in their work for the national Church. In contemplating the face of Jesus, there are two possible responses, the Pope said: either they welcomed and fed him when he was hungry and a stranger, or they did not. He said the beatitudes are helpful in living Christian life “at the level of holiness. They are few words, simple, but practical…May the Lord give us the grace to understand this, his message!” Francis told Italians to look again at the sentiments of Jesus as well as his actions. What we see in addition to Jesus’ humility, disinterest in worldly power and beatitude is him eating with sinners, speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well, and comforting the afflicted. In a direct appeal to the Italian bishops, Pope Francis asked that they “be pastors: may this be your glory.” “It will be the people, your flock, who sustain you,” he said, and asked that “nothing and no-one take away the joy of being sustained by your people.” Francis also expressed his hope that as true pastors, the bishops would not be “preachers of complex doctrine,” but rather “pronouncers of Christ, dead and resurrected for us. Aim for the essential, the kerygma.” To the Italian Church as a whole, he recommend a furthering of the social inclusion of the poor, “who have a privileged place in the people of God.” “The poor know well the sentiments of Jesus Christ because through experience they know the suffering Christ,” he said, and prayed that God would protect the Italian Church “from every surrogate power, from image and from money.” Pope Francis also spoke at length about dialogue and encounter, explaining that it doesn't mean to negotiate, but rather searches for the common good. In a special appeal to Italian youth, the Pope charged them to “overcome apathy,” and encouraged them to work toward building a better society, while immersing themselves in the broad spectrum of social and political dialogue. “You can say today we are not living an era of change but a change of era,” he said, noting that the new challenges of today are at times difficult to understand. He stressed the importance of living the problems “as challenges and not obstacles,” said that the Lord is not passive, but active in the work of the world. “You, therefore, go forth to the streets and go to the crossroads: all who you find, call out to them, no one is excluded. Wherever you are, never build walls or borders, but meeting squares and field hospitals.” Pope Francis said that he would like to see an Italian Church that is “restless…always closer to the abandoned, to the forgotten, to the imperfect.” “I desire a happy Church with the face of a mother, who understands, accompanies, caresses. Dream of this Church, believe in it, innovate with it freedom.” The Pope closed asking every community, parish, institution, diocese and district to deepen in the contents of Evangelii Gaudium in their work for the national Church over the next decade, in order to draw out essential criteria and to implement its provisions. He told them to believe “in the genius of Italian Christianity, which is not the wealth either of individuals or of an elite, but of the community, of the people of this extraordinary country.”
Catholic News Agency was founded in 2004, in response to Pope St. John Paul II’s call for a “New Evangelization." It is an apostolate of EWTN News.