Sunday, April 7, 2013

Francis of Assisi and Francis of Rome

Francis of Assisi and Francis of Rome

by Leonardo Boff
Earthcharter Commission

From the moment the Bishop of Rome, and thus Pope, was elected and took the name Francis. the comparison between the two Francis: the one from Assisi and the one of Rome, became inevitable. Moreover, Francis of Rome explicitly referenced Francis of Assisi. Clearly, it is not about mimicry, but about looking for points of inspiration that will inform us about the style that Francis of Rome wants to give to the direction of the universal Church.

There is an undeniable common point: the crisis of the ecclesiastic institution. Young Francis of Assisi is said to have heard a voice coming from the Crucifix of San Damiano, that told him: “Francis, repair my Church for it is in shambles”. Giotto depicted it well, showing Francis supporting the heavy Church building on his shoulders.

We are also experiencing a grave crisis, caused by the internal scandals of the ecclesiastic institution itself. A universal outcry has been heard («The voice of the people is the voice of God»): «repair the Church whose morality and credibility are in shambles». And to a Cardinal from the periphery of the world, Bergoglio, from Buenos Aires, has been trusted the mission, as Pope, of restoring the Church in the light of Francis of Assisi.

In the time of Saint Francis of Assisi, Pope Innocence III (1198-1216), who presented himself as «the representative of Christ» was triumphant. With Innocence III, the supreme degree of secularization of the ecclesiastic institution was reached, with explicit interest in «dominium mundi», dominion of the world. In fact, for a time, practically all of Europe, including Russia, was subjected to the Pope of Rome. Life was lived then with the greatest pomp and glory. In 1210, filled with doubt, Innocence III recognized Francis of Assisi's path of poverty. The crisis at that time was theological, because the Church as a temporal and sacred empire contradicted everything Jesus of Nazareth wanted.

Francis of Assisi lived the antithesis of the imperial Church. To the Gospel of power, he offered the power of the Gospel: total relinquishment, radical poverty and extreme simplicity. He did not place himself in the clerical or monastic framework, but as a layman, he was guided by the Gospel, lived strictly, on the periphery of the cities, where the poor and the lepers lived, and in the heart of nature, living a cosmic union with all beings. He spoke to the center from the periphery, asking for conversion. Without explicitly criticizing, he began a great reform, starting from below, but without breaking with Rome. We find ourselves before a Christian genius, with a seductive humanity and fascinating tenderness and caring, who openly discovered the best of our humanity.

I think that this strategy must have impressed Francis of Rome. The Roman curia and the clerical habits of all the Church must be reformed. But there should not be a rupture that could tear apart the body of Christianity.

Another point that most certainly inspired Francis of Rome: the centrality that Francis of Assisi gave to the poor. Francis of Assisi did not organize work for the poor, but he lived with the poor and like the poor. Francis of Rome, ever since we have known him, has been reiterating that the problem of the poor will not be resolved without the participation of the poor, not by philanthropy but by social justice. Social justice diminishes the inequalities that damage Latin America, and, in general, the whole world.

The third point of inspiration is very pertinent now: how do we relate to Mother Earth and the scarcity of goods and services. In the inaugural address of his enthronement, Francis of Rome used the word caring more than 8 times. It is the ethic of caring, as I myself have strongly suggested, that will save humanity and guarantee the vitality of the ecosystems. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology, will be the model for a respectful and fraternal relationship towards all beings, not above nature, but side by side with her.

Francis of Assisi maintained with Clare a relationship of great friendship and true love. He exalted women and their virtues, considering them «gentlewomen». I hope that Francis of Assisi will inspire in Francis of Rome a relationship with women, who are the majority of the Church, not only of respect, but one which gives them a leading role in the decision-making of the paths of faith and spirituality in the new millennium.

Finally, according to philosopher Max Scheler, Francis of Assisi is the Western prototype of cordial and emotional reason. This reason makes us sensitive to the passion of those who suffer and to the cries of the Earth. Francis of Rome, unlike Benedict XVI, who was the expression of intellectual reason, is a clear example of the cordial intelligence that loves the people, embraces people, kisses children, and sees the multitudes lovingly. If modern reason blends with the sensibility of the heart, it will not be difficult to care for our Common Home and for the disinherited sons and daughters, and we will nourish the most Franciscan conviction that by lovingly embracing the world, we are embracing God.

Leonardo Boff
Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro,,

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