Pope Francis’ choice to dedicate the words preceding the Angelus of 2 October to the situation in Ukraine is not new. The Pope did the same thing in 2013 when he was worried about the crisis in Syria. Twice, therefore, Pope Francis has eliminated the religious part, which is the commentary on the Gospel, to make a series of appeals and greetings during the pre-Angelus and the post-Angelus.
While the decision of Pope Francis was of extraordinary impact, it nevertheless leaves us to reflect on the fact that the Pope has eliminated the religious part of the Angelus, the commentary on the Gospel, when an appeal for Ukraine could have been made, as it is generally done, after the Angelus prayer, a solemn moment already destined for that type of declaration.
The decision raises a question: for Pope Francis, is the political side or the religious side more critical?
Pope Francis has always called for an outgoing, missionary, non-self-referential Church. He has repeatedly stressed the importance of starting over from the Gospel, giving out small Gospel books at the end of the Angelus, and asking everyone to read a passage daily.
Yet, to Pope Francis, sometimes the political aspect seems to come before the religious one. In general, political decisions were presented from spiritual facts. But, in the name of a certain concreteness, Pope Francis puts the concrete fact first of all, faithful to the principle that “realities are greater than ideas,” already outlined in Evangelii Gaudium.
This concreteness can be seen in some small gestures. Starting with a fact: Pope Francis never distributes communion to avoid the possibility that this can be exploited politically.
The Pope, however, becomes truly concrete when entering the public debate. By his admission, Laudato Si was born from an external solicitation to have the Church produce a document on the subject to the 2015 Paris climate summit.
When he took office, Pope Francis immediately asked the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to start a reflection on the theme of human trafficking, which had become his first diplomatic effort.
And immediately after his election, in the communiqués following the meetings with the heads of state and the heads of government, the Pope wanted to refer to the “culture of encounter,” a theme very dear to him, which then became concrete in the search for dialogue at all costs, even in difficult situations, and even when this dialogue could bring more harm than good.
The decision, for the second time, to cut the part of the commentary on the Gospel from the Sunday meeting with the faithful is a sign that, for the Pope, the concrete situation comes before preaching when things become urgent.
After all, the Pope is characterized by a certain interventionism, even beyond diplomatic rules. The decision of meeting with the Russian Federation ambassador to the Holy See immediately after the Russian attack on Ukraine cannot be explained differently.
Looking at the actions of the Pope, there is the idea that in the Pope, there are three different souls: that of the pastor, the passionate preacher of the Gospel who aims at the conversion of souls; that of the public Pope, a figure of weight who therefore says the things that are relevant to the public, following and intervening in the debate of the moment; and the Jesuit one, still somewhat permeated by the ancient hierarchical tradition.
These three souls merge in contradictory decisions that align with the Pope’s own thinking.
An example is the reform of the Curia. With the reform, the distinctions between congregations and pontifical councils disappeared. The bishop’s power of governance falls because the ability to govern now rests in the canonical mission entrusted by the Pope.
A step backward compared to the Second Vatican Council, which instead reaffirmed the potestas given to the bishops. However, Pope Francis’ decision recalls the arguments that the Jesuits used to defend the papal primacy at a time when the Church was under attack by the great revolutions. Faced with the prevailing secularism, the Jesuits, who had a special vow of obedience to the Pope, emphasized that it was the Pope who gave the canonical mission.
It is an outdated yet very concrete theme, which demonstrates the Jesuit soul of the Pope.
The issue is included in a reform of the Curia that aims to give a new pastoral structure to the Pope’s ministries; therefore, in this sense, we can see the decision of the shepherd.
And finally, the political Pope is seen clearly when we realize that the structure of the Curia had been reformed, indeed, to respond to the needs of modern times, but also with an eye to those who, in these times, have insisted the most to have more lay people and women in command posts.
In short, Pope Francis’ pragmatism characterizes the pontificate. And it is paradoxical if we consider that the Pope cares so much about the mission that he wanted to take over the leadership of the Dicastery for the Evangelization of Peoples, the missionary department.