Ever since Pope Francis was elected two years ago, there has been much speculation about the reform of the Curia that he was asked to undertake during the meetings of cardinals leading up to his election. It’s a topic his council of cardinals has undertaken at regular meetings. Some progress has been made in this area and there is some resistance too, as can be expected.
However, the much greater challenge the pope faces is changing our attitude toward the poor. Here his actions and his words have set a new tone that continues to surprise us.
As reported in this week’s Prairie Messenger, the pope is encouraging groups of homeless people from Rome to make a pilgrimage to see the Shroud of Turin. A papal donation helped pay for the bus, for meals and for lodging. The pope also provided a little bit of cash for each of the pilgrims so they could buy coffee or a snack during the trip. In the past year, the pope has provided showers for the homeless at the Vatican, as well as free haircuts. He has invited homeless people to join him at meals and for his birthday.
All this strikes us as surprising, and it is. It is a different way of teaching and a different way of acting from what has been the norm at the highest level of the church. No doubt, the Vatican has enabled many good things to happen through the charitable donations it makes around the world. But this kind of charity seems more direct and people-friendly.
In his June 7 Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square on the feast of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, the pope connected the celebration of the eucharist to how Christians treat the poor. He said Christians have no right to refuse help to those who need it. “Christ, who nourishes us under the consecrated species of bread and wine, is the same Christ whom we meet during the course of everyday life: he is in the poor person who holds out his hand; he is the suffering person who implores our help; he is in the brother or sister who asks us to be there and awaits our welcome; he is in the child who knows nothing about Jesus, about salvation, who does not have the faith; he is in every human being, even the smallest and most defenceless.”
The connection between the liturgical Body of Christ and the living Body of Christ to which we belong at baptism goes back to the teaching of St. Paul and St. Augustine. However, it had lost some of the focus that Pope Francis is now giving it again.
The more difficult and challenging reform Pope Francis is taking on is not the reform of the Curia. It is the reform in our own thinking about the poor.
Our society values those who make it on their own. We admire those who build bigger barns and accumulate larger bank accounts. We glance away from those we pass on the street seeking a handout.
It’s easier to talk about reforming the Curia. It’s not so easy to change our attitude toward the poor.