Pope Francis presented the vision for his papacy last Thursday, calling on Catholics to battle what he called the “globalization of indifference” to create a more compassionate church that champions the poor as it works to achieve social justice in an increasingly secular and money-oriented society.
Called ‘Evangelii Gaudium’, (the Joy of the Gospel), the document offers the Roman Catholic Church a road map of sorts for navigating the complexities of the modern world, with the Gospel as a compass for what the pope called “a new phase of evangelisation, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality”.
The document, a papal pronouncement known as an apostolic exhortation, was the first major written work that Francis has created since he was chosen eight months ago to lead the 2,000-year-old church.
It challenges the church to “abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way,’” to find novel, “bold and creative” ways to speak to the faithful and to make the church more meaningful.
The 84-page document is essentially a compendium of what Francis has said in dozens of speeches and sermons.
“It is the fruit of personal reflection,” the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said at a news conference.
“There is coherence between the words of the documents and the actions of the pope.”
An apostolic exhortation does not define Church doctrine, and the document makes clear that some issues - such as abortion, or the ordination of women - are not up for discussion.
But there is an acknowledgment too, that the world has changed, and that the church must change with it.
It is time, Francis said, for “still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church,” in particular “in the various other settings where important decisions are made”.
The local church must have greater say in decision-making, and the renewal of the church can only gain strength if it begins from the bottom up, the pope said.
Bishops and priests on the ground have a better sense of the needs of the faithful, as well as their frustrations, and parishes should become a critical part of the church’s evangelisation and outreach.
A parish should be a point of “contact with the homes and the lives of its people,” and not a “useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed cluster made up of a chosen few,” he wrote.