Defy the Apocalypse

By Antonio Spadaro SJ, 21 March 2020
Pope Francis at the General Audience on Wednesday 13 November. Image: ANSA/Vatican News.


When Francis spoke of the Church as a “field hospital,” he did not intend to use an engaging, rhetorically effective image. What was before his eyes was a “piecemeal world war.” The global crisis takes various forms and is expressed in conflicts, trade disputes, barriers, migration crises, failing regimes, hostile new alliances, and trade routes that open the way to wealth, but that also threaten tensions. You could draw a map, but it would always be incomplete.

Is the Church a field hospital in the sense that it heals the wounds of a war already lost, or does it intend to reinvigorate the weakened limbs of those who want to resume the struggle? There are those who campaign for the need to press down the accelerator, who tend to build a ghetto of a few “pure” against the “others,” that is, the widespread mass of evil doers.

And Francis? Is his task as Roman pontiff to strive for the utopia of a better world? Or should he try to avoid at any cost the tragedy of the demolition of the world? Is the earth for him a burst ball to kick so that evil can be crushed by indicating “new heavens and a new earth”? Or is it a shattered earthenware vase that must be restored piece by piece at any cost,  involving the slow work of putting back together the pieces?

For Francis, the Church’s task is not to adapt to the dynamics of the world, politics or society in order to shore them up and make them survive the worst: this is judged by him to be “worldly.” Nor does he intend to take sides against the world, politics or society. The pope does not reject reality in view of a longed-for apocalypse, of an end that would overcome the world’s tribulations by destroying the world.

Francis does not push the crisis of the world to its extreme consequences by preaching its imminent end, nor does he hold together the pieces of a collapsing world by seeking comfortable alliances or collaboration. Moreover, he does not try to eliminate evil, because he knows that would be impossible: it would simply move and manifest itself elsewhere, in other forms. Instead, he intends to neutralise evil. That is where the dialectic of Bergoglian action lies. And here lies the crux to understanding his meaning. This is his nagging thought.

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With thanks to La Civiltà Cattolica and Antonio Spadaro, SJ, where this article originally appeared.


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