March 13 marks the 10-year anniversary of Francis' election as pope. In this decade, the pope published a new Apostolic Constitution, Praedicate Evangelium, reformed the Roman Curia, wrote three encyclicals and five apostolic exhortations, made 40 trips, convoked five synods and elevated 911 new saints to the altars. The main themes of his papacy have been the synodality of the Catholic Church, care for nature and the poor, especially immigrants, and the fight against pederasty, seeking greater transparency. He has also been at the center of several controversies, especially for his stance on homosexuals.
Gracias por haberme acompañado con vuestras oraciones. Por favor, continuad haciéndolo.
— Papa Francisco (@Pontifex_es) March 13, 2023
Roman Curia reform and abuses
The then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio arrived at the conclave that was to elect Benedict XVI's replacement as Archbishop Primate of Buenos Aires. Benedict XVI's resignation was understood by many to be due to the need to undertake a profound reform of the Roman Curia and the church, which the German did not feel strong enough to do. This has been one of Francis' priorities, culminating in the promulgation of a new apostolic constitution last year.
He has also had to fight against allegations of pederasty against priests, to which he has applied a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to protecting the victims and their families. The Vatican has promoted a policy of collaboration and transparency that has been transmitted to the other Episcopal Conferences in the face of this serious scandal.
The poor and immigrants
Since his proclamation, after the resignation of his predecessor, the first Latin American Pope made his vision of the Church clear: "I want a Church by and for the poor." Since then, with a special concern for the drama of immigration and the dead trying to reach a better life far from their homeland, immigrants have been at the center of many of his messages. The encyclical Fratelli Tutti (2020) takes up the pope's call for an "open fraternity, which makes it possible to recognize, value and love every person beyond physical proximity, beyond the place in the universe where he/she was born or where he/she lives."
"Fratelli tutti," wrote St. Francis of Assisi to address all his brothers and sisters, and to propose to them a way of life with a Gospel flavor. Of those tips, I want to highlight one where he invites a love that goes beyond the barriers of geography and space. There he declares happy the one who loves the other "as much his brother when he is far from him as when he is near." With these few and simple words, he expressed the essence of an open fraternity, which allows to recognize, value and love each person beyond the physical proximity, beyond the place in the universe where he/she was born or where he/she lives.
"The first environmentalist pope"
Concern for the environment is another of Francis' main characteristics. Known as "the first environmentalist pope," Francis published in 2015 his second encyclical Laudato Si in which he criticizes "throwaway culture" and invites us to leave "a habitable planet for the humanity that will follow us." In addition, Francis instituted the idea of an "ecological sin," which is "an action or omission against God, the community and the environment. It is a sin against future generations and manifests itself in acts and habits of pollution and destruction of the harmony of the environment."
This sister (Earth) cries out for the damage we cause her because of the irresponsible use and abuse of the goods that God has placed in her. We have grown up thinking that we were its owners and dominators, authorized to plunder it. The violence that is in the human heart, wounded by sin, is also manifested in the symptoms of disease that we notice in the soil, in the water, in the air and in living beings. Therefore, among the most abandoned and mistreated poor is our oppressed and devastated earth, which "groans and travails in birth" (Rom 8:22). We forget that we ourselves are earth (cf. Gen 2:7). Our own body is made up of the elements of the planet, its air is what gives us breath and its water vivifies and restores us.
Family and youth
Young people and the family have also played a leading role in the pope's actions and writings. He has held two World Youth Days, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2013) and Krakow, Poland (2016), and he will hold a third in the summer of 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal. In addition, he dedicated the apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit to the youth, encouraging them to live their faith and trust in God in the face of life's difficulties and to search for their own vocation. Pope Francis tells young people that believers "are not weird." They should not be "defensive" when they speak of their faith, but rather show the joy of the resurrection.
To all young Christians I write with affection this Apostolic Exhortation, that is, a letter that recalls some convictions of our faith and at the same time encourages them to grow in holiness and in commitment to their own vocation. But since this is a milestone in a synodal journey, I address myself at the same time to all the People of God, to their pastors and to their faithful, because reflection on young people and for young people summons and stimulates us all. Therefore, in some paragraphs I will speak directly to young people and in others I will offer more general approaches to ecclesial discernment.
One of the main focuses of the debate surrounding Pope Francis is his stance on homosexuals. Francis has always advocated for the integration of homosexual Catholics and has sent messages of affection and understanding to these people. The pope stressed that "God is a father and does not deny any of his children," when asked what he would say to a young gay man. "I would have him see that it is not 'the rejection of the Church' but of 'people of the Church.' The Church is a mother and summons all her children," he assured. According to the pope, this can be seen in "the parable of those invited to the feast: 'just, sinners, rich and poor, etc.' A 'selective' Church, a Church of 'pure blood', is not Holy Mother Church, but a cult." In this regard, he went so far as to say that "The Church must 'ask forgiveness' from homosexuals."
The pope, defender of the family and of life from conception to natural death, has been at the center of some of the biggest controversies in this field. In his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Francis sought reproach with divorced Catholics, especially those who have remarried, saying, "It is important to make them feel that they are part of the Church, and that they are 'not excommunicated' and are not treated as such, because they are always part of the ecclesial communion." This generated much controversy in certain ecclesiastical spheres.
Abortion is "hiring a hitman"
One of the first and most important controversies of his papacy was over some of his statements on procreation in the family. Asked, on a return trip from Manila to Rome, about openness to the life of Christian marriage, he pointed out that "some believe that to be good Catholics, forgive me the word, we must be like rabbits. No: responsible parenthood."
His vehement defense of life also provoked intense reactions. Especially at the moment when he affirmed that abortion, not only is not a right, but "is a homicide," comparing it to hiring a hitman to kill another person.
Abortion is more than a problem, abortion is homicide. No half-words: whoever performs an abortion, kills. Is it right to kill a human life to solve a problem? ... Second question: is it right to hire a hitman to solve a problem? ... That is why the Church is so hard on this issue, because if it accepts this it is like accepting daily homicide.
The pope's speeches have led him to clash with political leaders around the world. For example, Spanish leaders harshly criticized his words about asking forgiveness from the Americas for the abuses committed during the conquest of these continents. The construction of the wall between Mexico and the U.S. led him to criticize Donald Trump. More recent were the accusations against the government of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, which he described as a "gross dictatorship" and went so far as to describe the leader as unbalanced.
The pope also lived through the COVID-19 pandemic, and the image of him praying alone in St. Peter's Square went around the world. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the pope has not stopped working for peace, offering to mediate with both governments and repeatedly calling for a ceasefire.