By Sarah Mac Donald - 13 March, 2016
Three years ago today (13 March) Pope Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio from Argentina, stepped out onto the balcony of the Vatican to a stunned world.
Not only was he the first Pope from Latin America, he was also the first Jesuit Pope and the first ever to take the name of Francis.
As Pope Francis continues to confound Vatican watchers, never able to predict what his next move might be, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, has spoken to Vatican Radio about some of the highlights of the past three years.
Cardinal Nichols said that for him one surprising thing about Pope Francis is his “remarkable energy, his vibrant presentation of the gospel” and his “ability to maintain a very full, personal and heartfelt presence.”
He said he believes the reason for this energy this can be found in the Pope’s deep relationship with the Lord.
“Nothing else could give a man of his age the kind of vitality and freshness that he’s sustained over these past three years.”
Cardinal Nichols also paid tribute to Pope Francis’ fidelity to the Lord’s message, which together with his concern for people, “especially those on the margins of society,” is what “captures and enthralls the world.”
When asked about ways in which Pope Francis has changed the papacy, Cardinal Nichols cautions that “this is not a reformation of the papacy” as some would have us believe.
He said there’s a “great continuity among the Popes, along with “a freshness” and “difference” with each new incumbent.
Turning to the question of what challenges face the Church, the Cardinal singled out the Pope’s desire to “galvanise” the Church around this Jubilee Year of Mercy, describing this as “an enduring challenge” to make the theme of mercy “a real central characteristic of Catholic life.”
“That’s the biggest challenge he sets us,” said Cardinal Nichols.
Separately, reform group ‘We Are Church Ireland’ has said that it was Pope Francis’ informal address to the assembled crowds in St Peter’s Square on that historic evening three years ago that endeared him to the hearts of all Christians and people of goodwill.
In a statement to mark the third anniversary of his election, the group recalled how he had laid out his mission statement for the future of the Catholic Church on 24 November 2013 in his “inspirational letter ‘Evangelii Gaudium’”.
Another milestone was his publication in May 2015 of his encyclical on the future of our world, ‘Laudato Si’.
Within a month of his election, he set up the Council of Cardinal Advisors and a year later the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
“Pope Francis has adopted a synodal approach in the implementation of his programme for change exemplified by his calling of the Synod of the family in 2014 and 2015,” We Are Church stated.
“His major impact has been his emphasis on the social justice message of the Gospel taking the side of the marginalised and the dispossessed of society.”
However, the Irish reform group warned that many women are “offended” by Pope Francis’ refusal “to recognise their God-given equality with men in the Church”.
“After three years of his pontificate we are still awaiting the practical implementation of his vision as outlined in ‘Evangelii Gaudium’.”
“There is no doubt that he is receiving both subtle and open opposition as he attempts any meaningful change both to Catholic Church structures and non-dogmatic doctrine.”
The group has called on all Catholics “especially those Vatican Cardinals who are resisting change” to support Pope Francis.
Spokesman for We are Church Ireland, Brendan Butler, commented, “The forthcoming publication on how he intends to implement the recommendations of the 2014/15 Synod of the family will undoubtedly be seen as the watershed of his pontificate.”