Pope Francis is helping to “reshape the Church for the third millennium,” according to British journalist Christopher Lamb.
Christopher, who was in Australia to observe proceedings at the Second Assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia, delivered a public lecture entitled ‘The Outsider Pope: Where is Francis leading our Church’, hosted by the Diocese of Parramatta on Tuesday 5 July.
Christopher is the Vatican correspondent from The Tablet journal, and his latest book, The Outsider: Pope Francis and His Battle to Reform the Church, draws on his close observations of Pope Francis and his efforts to renew the Catholic Church.
MC for the evening, Elizabeth Crouch AM, the recently commissioned Chairperson-elect of Catholic Schools Diocese of Parramatta Limited, introduced Christopher, saying his lecture was timely as Members of the Plenary Council were deliberating and discerning the future of the Australian church in terms of its focus on renewal and mission.
“Chris, in his recent article in The Tablet, observed that Australian Catholics had been blazing a trail and through our Plenary Council process, we have had the opportunity to not only recognise past failures but to talk about how we change culture and to move boldly forward.
“Clearly the Pope is about addressing past historical injustices and to righting some of the wrongs around the exploitation of some of our most vulnerable people including refugees and those in poverty.
“In Francis, we have a pope for the times, and I think that hearing Chris’ address, that’s very much the case.”
During his lecture, Christopher spoke about the opposition that the Pope has come up against in his battle to reform the Church before examining the direction he sees the Pope leading the Church.
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He explained that the Pope’s consistent and relentless focus on a lived, authentic Christianity has stirred up some arguments against him.
“How can a Pope both make an incredible global impact, yet also arise intense opposition at the same time? And can he succeed in the battle for Church reform?” he asked.
“At its heart, the Francis pontificate is an attempt to implement a Gospel-based reform of the church by applying the essentials of the Christian faith. It is rooted in a deep trust in the action of the Holy Spirit to update and renew the Church, including its structures.
“At the same time, this Pope has embarked on his papal ministry with a steely determination and shrewd strategic approach which has often unnerved and wrong-footed those who assumed they were always going to call the shots at the highest ecclesiastical levels.”
Christopher described how the Pope got his ‘outsider’ moniker – by being from the ‘Global South’, having not worked or studied in Rome ahead of his election and by choosing to model his pontificate on St Francis of Assisi.
“This Pope, like St Francis, seeks a renewal of the Church first and foremost by living the Gospel authentically, embracing poverty, simplicity and a deep love of the Cosmos, the natural world.
“It is about mission rather than maintaining the Church’s institutional prestige or financial position.
“He is a radical who always places the emphasis on the lived practice of faith while resisting all attempts to place ideological labels on the Church.
“His pastoral approach and his bold gestures such as opening up the Sistine Chapel to give private tours to the homeless…are his attempts to instinctively respond to the movement of the Spirit, and it makes Francis an unpredictable force.”
Christopher mentions three ways that Pope Francis has started to direct the Church’s future – his implementation of the Second Vatican Council, his urging of the Church to become synodal and calling the Church to be a “prophetic voice working at the peripheries.”
“Pope Francis sees Vatican II as a moment in the life of the Church that sets the path for the future.
“In Francis, we have a Pope who has made the acceptance of the Council a non-negotiable.
“With the global synod process currently taking place, he’s launched the most ambitious reform project since Vatican II and it’s one that is likely to have profound implications.
“The Pope is asking each of us – all members of the Church – to seek out the peripheries wherever we are. He wants the Church to speak out from the margins, for the marginalised. He is the outsider Pope who has associated his papacy with the outsiders.”
Concluding his lecture, Christopher said that Pope Francis has made “service, not status” the guiding principle of his pontificate.
“I like to think that what Pope Francis is trying to implement in the Church is the ‘upside-down economics of the Gospel’ – the last is first, the outsider is the insider, ‘blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’
“The Francis papacy has set down a definitive marker that cannot be erased.”
Following his lecture, Christopher answered a number of questions from the audience regarding the Pope’s Jesuit foundations, the Vatican’s relationship with China and women in leadership.
On behalf of Bishop Vincent Long, Bishop of Parramatta, Br Mark O’Connor FMS, the Diocesan Vicar for Communications, gave thanks to Christopher for his presentation.
“Christopher has captured the essence of Pope Francis’ spirit and the good it can do,” he said.
View images from Christopher Lamb’s public lecture here.
You can read the text of his presentation here.