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The ecclesial “gaze” of Pope Francis

Re-reading today, with a fresh mind, Pope Francis’ speech to the Mexican bishops past February 13, delivered during his apostolic visit to the Country, emerges a veritable compendium of his ecclesiological vision. That document contains all the “ecclesial highlights” that are so dear to the Pope

Not all gazes are the same. There are gazes of tenderness, and their opposite, gazes harshness. There are gazes capable of reconciliation and those that can divide. There are sensitive, aware and attentive gazes, and their opposite: the careless, distant, dormant gazes. There are also global, unitary views, as well as fragmented, egotistical visions. Re-reading today, with a fresh mind, Pope Francis’ speech to the Mexican bishops, delivered past February 13 during his apostolic visit to the Country, emerges a veritable compendium of his ecclesiological vision. Let it be clear that the speech is addressed to the bishops of a specific Country – Mexico – with its peculiar difficulties and resources. Thus it is confined to the particular situation of a specific Church. Nonetheless, far from being a limitation, the text features all the “ecclesial highlights” that are so dear to Francis.

The context: Mexico City, Cathedral of the Assumption. Francis, after a long and intense moment of prayer said that “for a long time” he had “nourished a desire to see” the Virgin of Guadalupe. He added: “I have desired, even more, to be captured by her maternal gaze. I have reflected greatly on the mystery of this gaze and I ask you to receive in these moments what pours forth from my heart, the heart of a Pastor.”

Città del Messico, 13 febbraio: Papa Francesco celebra la messa nella Basilica di Guadalupe

Follow some remarks on the chosen theme which set the tone of the entire reflection:


It is a word that belongs to the lexicon of Bergoglio-Francis. Moreover, in Ignatian spirituality the transforming gaze bears great importance, while the verb “mirar” (to look) is one of the most frequently recurring verbs of the “Spiritual Exercises”, carrying a great wealth of meanings: to observe, to discern, to contemplate and also take care … It is no coincidence, then, that the Pope has based his speech on the gaze, nor is accidental the explanatory corollary of tenderness, capable of weaving, caring and close to others, not asleep: an overarching, unifying gaze….

A gaze of tenderness. It is the gaze of every mother. It’s the profound feeling that constitutes an intrinsic part of maternity. Francis isn’t speaking of something abstract. He speaks of concrete and visible things. Tenderness communicates…the human person, his intimacy, his secrets… “It is necessary to have an outlook capable of reflecting the tenderness of God”, the Pope said. “I ask you, therefore, to be bishops who have a pure vision, a transparent soul, and a joyful face. Do not fear transparency. The Church does not need darkness to carry out her work.” It would be a grave contradiction!

In fact, although it is true that tenderness belongs especially to mothers, it is equally true that it belongs exclusively to the Church. This is not through assimilation, but by nature. That of the Mother-Church is the image that Pope Francis prefers the most.

As Francis has said on many occasions: “The great challenge of the Church today is to become a mother! […] If the Church is not mother, it is sad to say that she becomes a spinster, but she could become a spinster! And thus she would stop being fertile […] The Church’s identity is this: to evangelize, that is, to make children […] That is why the Church must do something, must change, must convert in order to become mother.” The path is clear: “The Church must convert in order to become mother.”

A reconciling gaze. Precisely because she is the Mother-Church, she is the promoter of unity. In fact, a mother that divides and fails to unite is nowhere to be seen. When it happens, however, it is an unnatural event. Indeed, the “ability to reconcile” has a special connotation in a heterogeneous country like Mexico, with over 60 recognized languages, (including native-American lexicons). This involves all of us! The Biblical episode narrated in the first book of the Kings (3:16-28), when Salomon, a man of deep wisdom, whom God bestowed the ability to distinguish between good and evil, allows truth to triumph over falsehood. Two women present themselves before him. They both claim to be the mothers of the same child. Solomon, after asking who was the real mother and receiving the obvious answer from both, proposes to divide the child in two. The real mother would never have allowed that her son died at the cost of never seeing him again. And so it is for the Church, in all of her expressions and forms:

Unity in truth rejects disuniting murmur and slander.

A close, caring gaze that is not asleep. This is the prerequisite of the outgoing Church. “The primary reform – the Pope said in an interview published by La Civiltà Cattolica (September 19 2013) – must focus on a change in attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be capable of warming people’s hearts, of walking with them in the night, of dialoguing and descending into their night, into their darkness, without getting lost.” Our thoughts go also to the Pope’s speech of June 21 2013 to Pontifical Representatives: “Pastors must know how to be ahead of the herd to point the way, in the midst of the flock to keep it united, behind the flock to prevent someone being left behind, so that the same flock, so to speak, has the sense of smell to find its way.”

Attention and closeness require empathy, availability mutual enrichment, relationship… In a word: to listen!


This is true especially at ecclesial level. To listen carefully with the yearning to go beyond, to “warm the hearts”…

Unità e croce

A global, unitary gaze. It is the focal point and the horizon of our gaze. It’s the leitmotiv of the Magisterium of Pope Francis, that involves not only the College of Bishops but also the people of God as a whole.

Togetherness and unity indicate a specific path: communion!

Indeed, the Church herself, as we are taught in post-Council ecclesiology, is “mystery of communion.” If taken seriously, this original reality will manifest itself in the life of every ecclesial community and should become a norm of life. Communion is a constitutive dimension of the Church.

Thus clearly emerges an accurately shaped profile, namely, a mother-Church that lives tenderness and mercy, capable of reconciliation, sensitive and caring towards everyone…in communion!

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