Pope calls for 'revolution of tenderness'

By Savi Hensman
November 27, 2013

The current economic system is “unjust at the root”, Pope Francis declared. In a major new document, he urged Roman Catholics to work with fellow Christians and others towards a more humane and peaceful world.

His 'apostolic exhortation' Evangelii Gaudium, translated as 'The Joy of the Gospel', calls for a more outward-looking, less centralised church. It offers a welcome challenge to people of various faiths and none to confront an economic and social system that fosters ruthless greed and leaves destitution, division and environmental damage in its wake.

Through encountering “God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption,” he suggested. Jesus can “break through the dull categories with which we would enclose him and he constantly amazes us by his divine creativity.”

The church should be an “evangelising community” nurtured by prayer, worship and fellowship, which “gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.”

This involves not only caring for those in need but also looking critically at life-denying structures and ideologies. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

He criticised “trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness”. These reflect “a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system.” It is important to work “to eliminate the structural causes of poverty” as well as “small daily acts of solidarity” with the poor.

At times the Pope’s rootedness in tradition, while often helpful, led him to fail to engage adequately with theological developments and aspects of others’ experience, including on the issue of women’s ordination. Yet overall, the call for a “revolution of tenderness” is to be welcomed, and may open up new opportunities for dialogue and joint work.

It is only to be expected that this call to action will be criticised by those who prefer a form of religion that shores up privilege and power. In reality the Pope’s critique of the dominant social and economic system is moderate compared to some of the biblical prophets and early church leaders. It is time for churches to speak out more boldly, and act more effectively.

The kingdom of God “is already present in this world and is growing, here and there, and in different ways: like the small seed which grows into a great tree (cf. Mt 13:31-32),” wrote Pope Francis. “Christ’s resurrection everywhere calls forth seeds of that new world; even if they are cut back, they grow again, for the resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history, for Jesus did not rise in vain. May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope!”

Evangelii Gaudium can be found on http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/documents...

© Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, economics, society, welfare and religion. She is an Ekklesia associate and works in the equality and care sector.

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