Pope Francis knows threats and warnings can never be the way to win over people

In his 11 years in the papacy, the Argentinian has shown us all the importance of bringing people with us through kind words and deeds

Pope Francis will be 88 in December. He was elected pope on March 13th, 2013. It’s difficult to believe he has been in the job 11 years. In that time he has done a great deal to give the Catholic Church a new image, a new sense of openness. The moment he compared the church to a field hospital I felt I could listen to this man. Here is someone who lives in the real world. After all, wasn’t he a regular user of public transport when he was archbishop in Buenos Aires? I have yet to see a bishop, archbishop or cardinal on a bus or train in Ireland. For that matter, there are not too many politicians on our buses and trains. This is the pope who washed the feet of Muslims in 2013.

The entrance antiphon in Sunday’s liturgy reads: “The merciful love of the Lord fills the earth.”(Psalm 33) Aren’t they fabulous words, and what a wonderful introduction to the Eucharistic celebration. Two great words, mercy and love, ring out loud and clear.

In the Gospel (John 10: 11 – 18) Jesus tells his friends: “I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me”. But he assures his listeners that there are others outside their circle who listen to his voice, and he is also their “good shepherd”.

Isn’t that exactly the language that Pope Francis has been speaking? I sometimes wonder if we are listening to our Argentinian pope. I say this because I walked into a church during the Easter season to see the following notice writ large at the back of the church. Indeed, it was the first thing I saw when I walked in. In large red letters it said: ‘Silence!’ Then a quotation from the Bible: “My house shall be a House of Prayer”/Luke 19:46/ ‘If you wish to speak, please speak to Me/ Jesus’.


My first reaction was one of annoyance. How alienating they were. Imagine walking into a church to be greeted by a warning. The biblical quotation is out of context because the following sentence in the passage from St Luke goes: “But you have turned it into a robbers’ den.”

It’s a dud quotation, truncated and misleading. The sentence about only speaking to Jesus really is nonsense. Since I saw that notice in a church, I have been asking myself what at all would Pope Francis think about it. I’d imagine it’s the last thing he would write or want us to write. Surely we should be welcoming people into our churches instead of admonishing them with a warning? Threats and warnings can never be the way to win over people.

The good shepherd, who knows his sheep and in turn the sheep who know him, is an exemplar of great warmth, love and trust. People flourish and grow in an environment where they feel and know they are respected and loved. The medics working in the field hospital, or anywhere, will always do the most effective job of work when they build a positive and close relationship with those they are attempting to heal. The same applies in other walks of life. The teacher who builds a good relationship with her/his students will always be the best teacher and, indeed, the most sought-after teacher. Francis in his 11 years in the papacy, which are now, as he acknowledges, drawing to a close, has shown us all the importance of bringing people with us through kind words and deeds.

Although Pope Francis is obviously an impressive man and many bishops support him, it does appear there is a deep underlying resistance to follow him with all our hearts and minds. Far too many people seem to be stuck in some sort of time warp or ideology that prevents them from realising that the church is, above all else, the reality of the living Jesus who preached mercy and love.

In the Acts of the Apostles (4: 8 -12) reading on Sunday Peter admonishes those who question the kindness of Jesus in curing a cripple.

In his simple and unassuming ways, Pope Francis is encouraging us to walk in the footsteps of Christ, respecting humanity, comforting those and showing mercy and love to the marginalised, sick and forgotten.