The selection of Pope Francis as Time magazine’s Person of the Year can help the pope refocus not just Catholics, but all Christians, on essential issues such as concerns for the poor, says Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., president of Loyola University Maryland.
The choice also speaks to the pope’s contributions during his nine months in the Vatican, the role of the Catholic Church in the world community, and the Pope’s wide spiritual authority, Fr. Linnane says.
“Particularly around Francis there’s this sense of almost returning to the roots of Christianity and recovering the notion of joy,” Fr. Linnane says. “At the same time, this is a man who is not afraid to look at the harshest dimensions of human existence. He has been so vocal on the situation of refugees in Europe and around the world, the role of the marginal, the role of the poor, and the way the world’s economic system is grinding down on the poor—and at the same time he has an infectious love of people and of the human situation.”
When Pope Francis was elected, Fr. Linnane knew little about Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, other than that he had been archbishop of Buenos Aires.
“You would think he would be very much in the spirit of Benedict and John Paul II—and I’m not saying it’s a huge divergence from that, not at all—but you can see three very distinctive styles,” Fr. Linnane says. “The interesting thing for me is that you would take Benedict as the stereotype of the Jesuit pope: highly erudite, huge scholarly accomplishments, a multi-linguist, very cerebral, and very cultured. But Francis really does get at the essence of the Society of Jesus, which is really the Spiritual Exercises and the power of discernment.”
Fr. Linnane sees the pope’s Jesuit background playing a central role in his leadership.
“Another thing that’s really important and really refreshing is the way in which he brings back a grounded sense of religious mystery. One thing—and I think this comes from his Jesuit heritage—is the idea that God is still active in the world, and it takes us time to determine what God is doing and how to respond to it. In the history of the Church at the times when we have known absolutely certain what God is doing, and we’ve had to take action quickly, we’ve made some really fatal blunders. But Francis has this sense of Jesuit discernment, this idea that we should really go deep here and find out what God is calling us to do.”
When Pope Francis gave a news conference on his way back to the Vatican after World Youth Day, and spoke about homosexuality, Fr. Linnane was struck by how the pope said, “Who am I to judge?”
“And I’m thinking, ‘Well, you’re the pope,’” Fr. Linnane says.
The pope’s leadership is welcome in our world today, Fr. Linnane says. “That’s affecting the Church in a very rich way. When a certain kind of charisma gets institutionalized, an institution really grows.”
He sees how the pope’s Jesuit approach is guiding his leadership and service to people throughout the world. “He’s showing us this is not a church for the pure, it’s a church for the wounded, and that we need to bring close to us those who are wounded.”
Read the story in Time magazine here.