Homily – Mass Celebrating The Fifth Anniversary Of The Pontificate Of His Holiness, Pope Francis



On this day, 19 March 2013, 5 years ago, His Holiness Pope Francis, celebrated his inaugural Mass of his Pontificate at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome on the Solemnity of St Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

On 16th January 2015 in the Philippines, Pope Francis explained why St Joseph was one of his most beloved saints. He said.

“I have a great love for St Joseph, because he is a man of silence and strength. On my desk I have an image of St Joseph sleeping. Even when he is sleeping he is taking care of the Church.”

The Pope encouraged the people to do what he did and leave a note under the image of the Saint seeking his intercession.

God’s will was revealed to St Joseph in his dreams as he slept. In total faithfulness and trust, St Joseph obeyed God’s every desire. Interestingly, we never hear of the direct speech of St Joseph in the Gospel – his silence and strength of faith did all the talking!

There is a profound humility and tenderness that we can see in the personality of Pope Francis through his simple devotion and trust of God in his love of St Joseph.

Some commentators of Pope Francis have written persuasively that the 5-year Pontificate of Pope Francis is best seen as a Papacy of images.

I wish to suggest three such images that point to the gift that the Holy Spirit has given the Church in Pope Francis – the 266th successor of St Peter.

The first image concerns this profound humility and tenderness of Pope Francis.

The image is of Pope Jorge Bergoglio for the first time on the Balcony of St Peter’s on 13 March 2013. He was dressed simply. He called for prayerful silence. He led us all with simple prayers we all know. He bowed down and called for all to pray for him. Clearly, he was beginning to show us in this striking image the nature of true Christian leadership – it is a service in humility.

His choice of the name ‘FRANCIS’ cemented this silent and strong image. In explaining his choice of name he said in those days St Francis of Assisi was:-

“…. The man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation, the same created world with which we don’t have such a good relationship.”

He added:

“How I would love a church that is poor and for the poor.”

This image rests well with his subsequent pastoral teachings that the Church is to accompany people on the journey to the Father’s house with loving discernment and integrate weakness with the logic of the pastoral mercy of our tender God. (Amoris Laetitia, 291-312, 2016)

Another key image is of Pope Francis embracing a severely disfigured (boils) and suffering man at St Peter’s Square during one of the Wednesday general audiences (6 Nov. 2013). Pope Francis paused for several minutes to receive and embrace the sick man.

Pope Francis encounters Jesus in the “periphery people”.

No doubt every Pope builds on the pastoral legacy of his predecessors and expands upon the meditations of particular insights. A very significant emphasis of both Pope St John Paul II and Benedict XVI concerned the centrality in Christianity of our living encounter with Jesus. This is the central point of all evangelisation. It’s expressed beautifully by Pope Benedict in Deus Caritas Est (25 Dec. 2005):

“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, who gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (N. 1)

Pope Francis builds on this beautiful central point of our precious faith but clearly locates this saving encounter most especially with those on the periphery of life.

Famously he said:

“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security.”

Therefore, this encounter of love with Jesus in the poor produces a Church of healing that is a “field hospital after battle” (Homily, Feb. 2015) and priests who “are to take on the smell of the sheep”. (March 2013, Chrism Mass Homily)

This encounter of Jesus gives birth to a joyful Church, even in the midst of great suffering. Pope Francis summarises:

“Never give away to discouragement! Ours is not a joy born of having many possessions, but of having encountered a person: Jesus in our midst.”

A third and final image of the Pontificate of Pope Francis up until now that touches me is perhaps not so well known – but it summarises in one image an important gift of the Pope to us. It is the Pope planting an olive tree in the Vatican gardens on 10 June 2014. He was joined by the former Israeli President Shimon Peres, and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, together with the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Firstly, it demonstrates the extraordinary peace-making gifts our Pope generates – especially in his frequent overseas pilgrimages. But also the charity that plants seeds of peace, hope and joy in desert places.

More so, it also indicates how he shows incredible leadership of friendship and tenderness in regard to ecumenical and interreligious relations.

In this joint planting of an olive tree, he is bringing together in one peaceful image Jews, Muslims and Christians – the Abrahamic faiths.

In regard to Christians, Pope Francis is conspicuous in building growing healthy relations with our Eastern Church Christians – building on the foundations of his predecessors. We long for the two lungs of Christianity – The East and West, to breathe again in one united Body of Christ.

Even within Western Christianity, one particularly overlooked contribution that Pope Francis is presently involved in is the fostering of ecumenical unity, especially among Roman Catholics and Evangelical Christianity. In recent years, more than one Pentecostal Minister in Australia has asked me how he can personally meet Pope Francis on a pilgrimage to Rome – that is amazing given our fractious history!

Believers of all kinds can see in Pope Francis a humble pilgrim more than happy to welcome others in practical charity and accompaniment towards the Father’s house. They instinctively experience him as a man of the Holy Spirit, a strong but gentle man of God – just like St Joseph.

Finally, in this image of tree planting, we are reminded of Pope Francis’ great contribution in advancing Catholic teaching on environmental ethics. I hope that the important links he makes between both “human ecology” and “natural ecology” will help produce a mature “integral ecology” in the years ahead.

Let us pray for His Holiness Pope Francis, on this his fifth anniversary of the beginning of his Papal service among us. I am sure he would really appreciate our prayer for him on this day.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn