The Roots of Pope Francis' Preaching

This posting from the issue of Liturgy dealing with “Pastoral Liturgy and Pope Francis,” guest-edited by Katharine Harmon, looks at Pope Francis’ approach to his ministry as a preacher.

In the Sistine Chapel on March 13, 2013, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was elected bishop of Rome, his friend Cardinal Claudio Hummes—a Franciscan friar from Brazil—turned to the new pope to say, “Don’t forget the poor.” Moments later, Bergoglio chose, as his papal name and inspiration, Saint Francis of Assisi. 
 Six months later, Pope Francis made a pilgrimage north from Rome to Assisi, a city on a hill from which for centuries pilgrims have come upon the breathtaking panorama of the Umbrian countryside. There, on the Feast of Saint Francis, the pope preached:
Today, I too have come, like countless other pilgrims, to give thanks to the Father for all that he wished to reveal to one of the “little ones” mentioned in today’s Gospel: Francis, the son of a wealthy merchant of Assisi. His encounter with Jesus led him to strip himself of an easy and carefree life in order to espouse “Lady Poverty” and to live as a true son of our heavenly Father. This decision of Saint Francis was a radical way of imitating Christ: he clothed himself anew, putting on Christ, who, though he was rich, became poor in order to make us rich by his poverty (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9). In all of Francis’ life, love for the poor and the imitation of Christ in his poverty were inseparably united, like the two sides of the same coin.
 . . . The point of [Saint] Francis’s discipleship is not so much that he chose a life of material poverty. . . [but rather] that [he] recognized the image and likeness of Christ in God’s creation and in each person—and most particularly in the faces of the poor. More than anything, Francis made of his life a fundamental option for relationship with the poor. . .
Early in his papacy, Pope Francis taught that growth in the Christian life requires an “‘art of accompaniment’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Exod. 3:5).” [See Evangelii Gaudium, ¶169,]
As in the liturgy, Christian life is a performance in both word and action that acknowledges the presence of the Risen Jesus in our midst. Each of us, according to our calling, is in some way a performer and preacher of the Gospel. 
. . . By the time he became auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992, Jorge Bergoglio had embraced the church’s preferential option of the poor. When he became pope in 2013, he was prepared by experience to be consistently on message about action for justice and the Gospel option for the poor—to which he often speaks by way of the counter-cultural expression of “going to the peripheries.”
[This phrase is found in the Pope’s Evangelii Gaudium, ¶ 20:] “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.”


Heille’s full essay is available in Liturgy 33, no. 2 available by personal subscription and through many libraries. For more, see Gregory Heille, O.P., The Preaching of Pope Francis: Missionary Discipleship and the Ministry of the Word (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015).


Gregory Heille, O.P., “Pope Francis: Preacher,” Liturgy 33, no. 2 (2018): 3-10.

David Turnbloom