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Archbishop of Chicago reflects on Pope Francis’s teachings

| Friday, March 7, 2014

Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, came to Notre Dame Thursday evening to lecture on mercy in the teaching and ministry of Pope Francis and how the Pope’s Argentinian origins inform his leadership in the Vatican.

“The three themes or attitudes that surround his teaching on mercy and flesh it out are dialogue as encounter, poverty and ‘Deus Semper Maior,’ [which translates as] ‘God is always greater,’” George said.

George focused on these three themes, and said the Pope’s emphasis on mercy grew out of his own personal experience.

“The topic is not very difficult to research because … every talk he gives comes back to mercy as the root of his own experience and has shaped his pastoral approach, and to some extent, his theoretical teaching,” he said.

“The emphasis on this virtue is rooted in the personal experience of young Jorge Bergoglio in Buenos Aires. At the age of 17 on his way to meet with friends, he decided to stop in a church. Upon entering, he met a priest whose spirituality moved the young man to confession. That moment was a critical experience in his young life.”

George said dialogue, which he called “the methodology of the Second Vatican Council,” is an essential aspect of Pope Francis’s vision of mercy, though Catholics often struggle to initiate and execute effective dialogue.

“Referring to the modern historical events in Argentina, Bergoglio states that we must create a ‘culture of encounter,’” he said. “So often, however, we bring obstacles that do not permit a fruitful dialogue, obstacles such as domination, not knowing how to listen, noise in our speech, preconceived judgments and so many others.”

George said the Pope’s efforts to live a life of poverty also heavily influence his vision of mercy in the Church.

“His choice of the name Francis reveals the Pope’s sense of closeness with St. Francis of Assisi and their shared dedication to the poor,” he said. “He’s no stranger to poverty and the needs of the poor. He walked the slums in the neighborhoods in which he lived, he met with victims of human trafficking and encouraged his Jesuit students to understand that the center is the periphery.”

Pope Francis’s own actions provide an example for Catholics to live a life of poverty and serve the poor, George said.

“His zeal for serving the poor is reflected in his own simple lifestyle, and the first few days of his papacy were filled with a number of papal firsts,” he said. “He paid his own bill at the hotel, took the bus with fellow Cardinals and called the newspaperman in Argentina to cancel his subscription. Through his actions, the Pope is offering us a true example of love for the poor.”

George said the Pope also encourages Catholics to blend the dialogue and poverty and make an effort to know the poor.

“There is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor,” he said. “For those of us accustomed to assisting the poor through financial means, the Pope encourages us to know the individuals we help on a more personal level. He also invites us to simplify our lifestyles.”

“[Pope Francis] says the culture of prosperity deadens us, and trickle-down theories of economic growth have not proven reliable. A life of poverty will help to identify what is truly important in life.”

George said Pope Francis aims to put mercy at the center of the Church and craft a message of salvation for sinners through the joy of the gospel.

“The Pope’s conviction from his experience and in his teaching is that God’s mercy must be the reality which fundamentally shapes Catholic life, and particularly evangelization, offering the Gospel with joy to the entire world,” he said. “The joy of a sinner experiencing God’s mercy and having been forgiven by someone who is always greater and capable of love … is a very beautiful thing to realize.”

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About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

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