Tuesday, January 23, 2018

"On the Limit of the Gestures and the Figure of Francis" A Thoughtful Analysis of Ambiguity of Pope Francis from Chile Visit


By Nicolás Panotto
Speaking to a reference member within the Chilean Catholic Church about the Pope's visit to his homeland, he tells me the following sentence: "This has been not one of the worst visits of Francisco, but of a Pope to a Latin American country in the last decades". This strong expression summarizes the widespread sense of bitterness that has remained on the palate of much of the Chilean population, both in members of the Catholic Church itself and the general public.
Francisco's visit can be evaluated as a thermometer that crossed from high temperatures, when without waiting for it, he apologized to the victims of sexual abuse during his meeting with President Bachelet in La Moneda, until a dry and icy iceberg towards the final, when on his last day of stay, in front of the question of a journalist on that same scabrous subject, the Pope changes his compassionate countenance and his soft voice towards a strong expression and a threatening tone, affirming that the accusations against the very questioned bishop Barros - wrapped up in sexual abuse coverings of minors inside the curia - are pure "slander." With that tiny word, he threw overboard all attempts at politically correct escape, as they had been piloting until now,
Between these events, each event of the visit was giving something to talk about. Perhaps the presence in the jail of women of Santiago and their words about dignity, or the fervent message at the Catholic University gave some respite. But apparently, the citizens had already given their verdict: the attendance at the events, and even in the already classic caravans of the "mobile pope", were surprisingly scarce and showed little enthusiasm for the arrival of the Pontiff. The same thing happened with the three public masses - in Santiago, Temuco and Iquique - where the attendance was poor, as were the messages of Francisco and the liturgy itself. Nothing new. More of the same. Gone is that hope for the poignant pastoral words of the Pope, who have achieved so much fame in previous years.
Francisco has always been a paradoxical figure. It has raised all kinds of feelings, ranging from the implantation of a sense of greater sensitivity and "humanity" on the ecclesial institution, of "reform" through the moves within the old Vatican dynamic, even of "revolution" when addressing critically various social problems, such as global economic injustice, environmental crisis, among others. But on the other hand, we already know that these issues are not the most delicate nor those that give a talk within the Catholic Church (and society in general) - namely, those referring to the family, sexuality, the place of woman, the ecclesial leadership structure and the untouchable dogmas-, about which Francisco has acted, sometimes as a good politician -elegantly evasive touching sensitive fibers-,
To the surprise of many, the visit to Chile made it clear that gestures (virtual) are not enough, as many have been warning for some time. Within the immense and complex structure of the Catholic Church, a simple movement can provoke a "butterfly effect": a single phrase said by the Pope induces deep mobilizations within communities and organizations in different parts of the globe. Francisco is more than aware of it, so he has opted to flood television screens and activity agendas with these small samples of change, which undoubtedly "renew the spirit" by removing the dust from the stagnant image and retouching appearances to calm the waters, showing a certain face of change.
But this is not enough. We do not mean to say that there is a Machiavellian act here, but rather to reinforce the fact that these processes have reached issues that do not touch the deep roots of the historical questioning of the church and its social role. Maybe something that Francisco did not calculate is the fact that people, seeing a certain intentionality of transformation, asked themselves: will things finally change? Perhaps the Pope thought that the parishioners and society in general would be content with small things. But in reality, only the hornet's nest moved. The demands are much greater, and by opening the floodgates towards a new image, what was done was to trigger even more the demand for a radical turnaround. And now the Pope faces a scenario where instead of placating the waters, What he did was to awaken a community and a group of voices that put him between a rock and a hard place. And as it happened in Chile, getting on the defensive is the worst thing that can be done.
These events reflect two more things. First, that the figure of Francisco falls in the middle of a context of strong political polarizations in the continent -and in each country in particular-, where the dispute between socio-political, ethical and even economic projects puts in check any social agent that Pretend public visibility. "On which side are you?" Seems to be the central question to measure any movement or word. Being "politically correct" or giving the image of "neutral" today is not a strategic path. It is or it is not. You choose one side or the other. Many thought that Francisco was in a corner, but in reality his positioning is much more ambiguous than it appears. Meanwhile, the ambivalence of his actions in the middle of this increasingly divided and turbulent sea makes his figure - and with it,
Second, all this also highlights the complexity of religious identifications in the contemporary globalized world. These processes continue to reinforce the fact that today we live in a time (post-secular?) Where institutional forms and theological discourses are increasingly stressed from a community of subject-believers who demand, speak, act, ask , they question, without allowing themselves easily to consent to any accommodative practice, and even less so in an imposed manner. Francisco has been trying to do a "facelift" to the church, when at the back of the room, behind the backyard portal, everything remains almost the same. Just as we notice an empowerment of citizens whose action exceeds even the most minute political predictions, in the same way the religious phenomenon, The dynamics of faith and the processes of belief can no longer be easily contained by an institutional hierarchy or a theological bend. If Francisco intends to keep the church in peace with simple gestures that do not go deep and do not meet the social demands on the role of the institution, the Chilean failure will be only the first.

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