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"Pope Francis thinks politically"

"We are a society that has forgotten to cry and to sympathize. The globalization of indifference robs us of the ability to cry." Full of wisdom, the new pope says: "The greatness of a society is measured by how it treats the neediest. According to this measure, modern society is barbaric, bloodless, anemic and cruel.

Interview with liberation theologian Leonardo Boff

[This interview published on 7.22.2013 is translated from the German on the Internet,  http://www.tagesspiegel.de. Pope Francis journeyed to the World Youth Day of Catholics in Rio de Janeiro. In the interview, the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff speaks about the hopes bound with the new pope - the first from Latin America. Leonardo Boff, 74, is one of the founders of liberation theology. Liberation theology arose at the beginning of the 1960s in Latin America, set the poor in the center of its teaching and also shared in the legacy of Marxism.

As a son of Italian immigrants, Boff entered the Franciscan order at 21. He studied philosophy and theology and continued his studies with Karl Rahner in Munich from 1965 to 1990. After several essays on church abuses, the Vatican issued a speaking- and teaching prohibition on Boff in 1985. Nevertheless he renewed his criticism and was punished with a disciplinary fine by Cardinal Ratzinger in 1991. Boff withdrew from the Franciscan order. He lives today in a mountainous forest near Petropolis with the human rights activist Marcia Maria Monteiro and her six children from a first marriage.]

Mr. Boff, will you take part in the World Youth Day of the Catholic Church that begins this Monday in Rio?

I cannot be there because of health problems. However the new pope asked for my new book titled "Francis of Assisi and Francis of Rome: a new church spring?"

You set great hopes in Francis. What would you like to say to him?

I would urge him to set the poor in the center of his pontificate and among these poor the Planet Earth that is exploited in inconceivable ways.

I hope the pope might be guided by Saint Francis in the future. His name stands for another church, a simple and poor church, open for everyone and an advocate of nature.

How do you evaluate Francis' work?

The pope has not had enough time to realize all his ideas. But he has already set crucial themes. He began his work with the renewal of the pontificate, not with the reform of the Roman curia. He wants to show the pope must lead the way with a good example. He is modest, direct, near to people and free from the symbols of power. His great challenge is to restore the credibility of the Catholic Church after all the scandals.

On the other hand, do you fear that the World Youth Day will again be a spectacle around the pop star pope?

This pope is more political than his predecessor. He appears as a shepherd, not as an ecclesiastical authority. In Rio he will point the way to the future by visiting a favela. He has also refused to live in a suite and chose instead a simple room. In Rome he lives in a small apartment, rides the train and bus. This is not populism but deeply felt love for the poor and a new understanding of the role of the pope. I believe Francis will give a following wind to the forces fighting for social justice in Latin America.

You call for a church that interferes more strongly in politics. Is that the task of the church?

There is no other continent on which prosperity is as unjustly distributed as Latin America. Nearly 200 million persons live in Brazil. However only 5000 families possess 43 percent of the wealth. This unequal distribution weakens democracy which requires a minimum inequality and transparency. Latin America's faithful expect the Catholic Church to rediscover its prophetic role in this situation. The church must side with the poor Indians, black people, children, women and the landless. Under the popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, this task was neglected and churchmen devoted to this task were fought. Both popes appointed conservative bishops who steered clear of the dialogue with society. Latin America's faithful expected the church would open itself again and find its way back to the generosity and justice of Jesus.

How do you explain the rapid growth of the evangelical church in Brazil and Latin America?

These churches arise through the institutional vacuum of the Catholic Church. Around 65 percent of Brazilians confess to Catholicism. 100,000 priests are needed to care for them. But there are only 19,000. 7000 of whom are foreigners. Many catholic base communities arose but they were not enough. The Catholic Church experiences an institutional breakdown, particularly at the periphery where the multitudes of the poor and simple people live. Brazilians are very religious. When a Christian Church comes to them, they join it. People long for assimilation and community and are less oriented in doctrines. I do not see the diversity of churches negatively. Diversity represents Brazil's spiritual wealth. No one can claim to represent the beauty of Jesus' teaching and praxis in its totality.

What does it mean that the pope is a Latin American?

He comes from the great South, not from old European Christendom. 62 percent of all Catholics live in Latin America and only 24 percent live in Europe. Our churches are no longer only reflections of European churches. They are sources of faith themselves with their own tradition, theology and pastoral care. Here bishops decide to preach social justice and to interpret human rights from the view of the poor. That means a hierarchization. The right to a life in health, a life with education and work comes first. Then all the other rights are added. Francis stands in this tradition.

How could believers in Europe learn from Latin America?

I think Europeans have lost the community-endowing meaning of faith and the ability to fill religious symbols with life. The syncretism between religion and people's culture is completely missing. Faith is congealed. On the other hand, faith is more joyous and festive in Latin America. Faith impregnates people against their arduous daily routine. Brazilians are a very religious people. I would almost say a mystical people. They feel God in their daily life. The European is more rational.

Did Joseph Ratzinger give you a sign of reconciliation when he retired as pope?

No, and I did not expect that. Ratzinger did what he held to be right when he disciplined me with a teaching prohibition. I have always held to my theology of liberation. That the church does not denounce injustice and oppression is irresponsible. I have nothing more to say to Ratzinger but respect his courageous decision to retire from the papacy. He knew his physical, mental and spiritual limits. I hope he goes to his meeting with God full of confidence.


By Leonardo Boff

[This essay published on 7/26/2013 is translated from the German on the Internet,  http://traductina.wordpress.com/.]

Freedom of the spirit is one of the great achievements of human personality in its individuation process. It is the ability to be free in a double way: free from the pressures, rules, norms and protocols invented by society and the institutions to standardize human conduct and form personalities so they serve very definite goals. Freedom of the spirit also means being free to be authentic, to have one's own ideas and to act corresponding to one's innermost nature which is formed all life long in conflict and tension to the pressures.

This is a titanic struggle because we are born under certain conditions that are not subject to our will like being in a family, a school, a circle of friends and the religion and culture that influence our habits. All these authorities that act like the super-ego can limit and even whittle us down in certain cases. These limitations have an important regulating function. The river with restricting river banks and limits reaches the ocean. These limits can also serve as dikes. Floods can occur since the water must find its way. The water leaves the bank and forms ponds.

The astonishing attitude and conduct of the current bishop of Rome who is called Pope Francis is characteristic for freedom of the spirit.

Normally a cardinal as soon as he is chosen pope assumes the classical solemn style of the pope, whether in his clothes, gestures, power symbols of total authority or in language. Francis chose the opposite in his tremendous freedom of spirit. He adjusted the figure of the pope to his personal style, customs and faith outlook. Everyone knows about the upheavals he introduced without much uproar. He removed all the power symbols, in particular the gold cross decorated with precious stones and the Mozetta worn by his predecessors and full of brocades and gemstones, once the symbol of the Gentile Roman emperor. Smiling he said to the secretary who wanted to lay it on his shoulders: "Keep up your good spirits, the carnival is over." He dresses in the greatest simplicity. He refuses all the arrangements for the highest shepherd of the church like the papal palace which he replaced with the church hostel where he eats with other people. He appeals to the poor Peter, a simple fisherman or to Jesus who according to the poet Fernando Pessoa "knew nothing about accounting and didn't have a library" because he was a simple Mediterranean peasant. Francis seems himself as successor of the former and representative of the latter. He does not like being addressed as "Your holiness" because he feels as "a brother among brothers," directs the church in warm-hearted kindness, not in the strictness of canonical law.

On his Brazilian journey, he did not organize any great spectacle. His freedom of spirit shone through. He wanted to be transported in a normal car, a covered jeep so he could be stopped by the crowd, embrace the chi8dlren, drink a little Mate-tea and exchange his white papal cap for a light worn-out cap given him by one of the faithful. While the official welcome ceremony by the government followed a strict protocol, he kissed the female president Dilma Rousseff warmly to the great shock of the master of ceremonies.

This freedom of the spirit brings to light an undeniable radiance marked by affection, tenderness and strength, the characteristics of the pe3rsonality of Francis of Assisi. He is a person of great integrity. This disposition reveals a man full of clarity and tenderness who expresses his innermost nature and self-confidence. This is what we expect from a leader, above all a religious leader. He allows a lightness and a certainty to shine through.

This freedom of the spirit is strengthened by the wondrous liberation of the reason of the heart. Most Christians are weary of doctrines and seem skeptical toward the campaigns against the real or imaginary enemies of faith. We are all marked to the core by the intellectual, functional, analytical and efficient reason. But now someone speaks to the heart as he did in his speech in the favela. A deep sense for the other and for God lives in the heart. Without the heart, teachings are cold and fail to arouse any passion. He confesses to survivors from Africa: "We are a society that has forgotten to cry and to sympathize. The globalization of indifference robs us of the ability to cry." Full of wisdom he says: "The greatness of a society is measured by how it treats the neediest." According to this measure, modern society is barbarian, bloodless, anemic and cruel.

The reason of the heart represents Jesus' dream better than all scholarly doctrine and makes a fascinating personality out of its most important ambassador, Francis of Rome, who does not only touch the hearts of Christians.

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