A Pontiff rather than a Pope. Not an absolute sovereign whose place is “above the Church” but “a baptized among other baptized, a bishop among other bishops” of a people that need more and more to be guided in a Collegian spirit. The 50th anniversary of the Synod, in front of an audience of pastors and faithful, was the scene of one of Bergoglio’s most passionate and unrestrainable speeches. At the center there was the Petrine ministry, one of Catholicism’s untouchable mantras, which in Francis’ intentions, without losing its value, may be endowed with a new meaning that will be closer to the original one. The role of St. Peter’s Successor, he recalled, “is to guide the Church of Rome that presides in love all the Churches”. A message that probably hides also desire for reconciliation with other Christians, starting from the Orthodox who have been contesting for centuries the powers recognized to the Papal role. And which will probably cause the dissent of some exponents of the ecclesiastical hierarchy who are closer to tradition.
But in those three years, Bergoglio has been showing care about the right of those who, even within the Church itself, have frowned upon his openness. “I am convinced – he said – that in a synodic Church even the exercise of the Petrine Primacy will receive greater light”. And he reiterated the “necessity and the urgency to think of a conversion of Papacy. As the Bishop of Rome, I am fully aware that the full and visible communion of all communities in which, by virtue of God’s fidelity dwells His Spirit, is Christ’s ardent desire. I am convinced that I have a special responsibility in this regard, particularly to take note of the ecumenical aspiration of the majority of Christian communities and listening to the request I am addressed with to find a way to exercising primacy that, while in no way renouncing its essential mission, opens to a new situation”.
Then, Francis recalled that Jesus made the Church “by placing at the top of it the apostolic College in which Apostle Peter is the rock”. But in God’s People, he said, “as in an upside down pyramid, the top is located below the base. This is why those who exercise authority are called ministers: because according to the original meaning of the word, they are the smallest of all”. And, he said, “in a similar horizon, the Successor of Peter is nothing but the “servant of the Servants of God”. “Never forget – he warned – for Jesus’ disciples, yesterday, today, and always, the only authority is the authority of service, the only power is the power of the Cross”.
The Synod of Bishops is merely “the most obvious manifestation of a dynamism of communion which inspires all the ecclesiastic decisions”. The first level of exercise of collegiality, he explained, is realized in local Churches, in those bodies of communion that must remain “connected with the lower levels and start from people and every-day problems”, whereas the second one manifests itself first and foremost in episcopal conferences. “In a synodic Church – he pointed out quoting from Evangelii gaudium – it is not appropriate for the Pope to replace local dioceses in the discernment of all issues that arise in their territories. In this view, I feel the need to carry on a healthy process of decentralization”.
Then arrived the blow. Inside the Church “someone has to humble himself to be at brothers’ service along their way”. Besides, “synodality, as constitutive dimension of the Church, offers us the most adequate interpretative frame to understand hierarchical ministry itself. If we understand that, as St John Chrysostom says, ‘Church and Synod are synonyms’ – because the Church is nothing but the ‘walking together’ of God’s flock along the paths of history towards Christ the Lord- we understand also that, inside of it, no one can be placed above the others”. Words that seem to close the circle opened the day when Bergoglio was elected Pope and when he introduced himself as the “Bishop of Rome”, bowing in front of the crowd and asking to pray for him. An action that, at the time, was understood only by the most careful analysts and whose revolutionary power is now fully comprehended by everyone.