Pope Francis and the Periphery
Canadian Religious Conference Bulletin, Winter 2014 — The Church is collectively catching its breath in these extraordinary months following the election of Jorge Bergoglio to the chair of Peter. Through his genuine kindness and easy familiarity with people of every religious viewpoint and attitude, we are witnessing nothing less than a recasting of the Petrine office. The Church is embracing a servant leader who, inspired by the Poverello of Assisi, has cast aside the trappings of the papal court.
A recurring theme in these first months is what Pope Francis calls “the periphery.” In a pre-conclave speech to his fellow cardinals that may well have sealed his election, he provided an insight into his agenda for the Church.
There is a tension between the centre and the periphery…. We must get out of ourselves and go toward the periphery. We must avoid the spiritual disease of the Church that can become self-absorbed: when this happens, the Church itself becomes sick. […] Between a Church that goes into the street and gets into an accident and a Church that is sick with self-referentiality, I have no doubts in preferring the first. (Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to the pre-conclave General Congregation of the Cardinals, March 2013)
I would like to examine what he means by the centre and the periphery, and in particular its relevance for religious communities as they determine their apostolic engagements.