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Those who urge the view that Pope Francis is not the Pope are, in this relativistic age, entitled to their view, however contrary to the facts; the irony is that in a less relativistic era such as the one they profess to prefer, their view would have quickly landed them in trouble; the Inquisition was not hot on individual Catholics explaining why in their view the Pope was not the Pope.

The Church is the people of God on a journey, it is not just the clergy, or the bishops, or the Pope; this Pope, like his two immediate predecessors, never forgets that. If, sometimes, on its long journey through time and space, the Church has not always seemed like that, then it is good to be reminded that it is so. When Francis said that: the thing the Church needs today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful’, he was not saying that was the fulness of the faith, or that other things were not also important, he was doing that thing real leaders do – he was stating a priority for the moment. Unless the Church can reach out, to its own members and the world, it is failing to fulfil the Great Commission given by Jesus. There may be those who disagree with his statement that: ‘the Church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules’; but none, I hope, would disagree with the statement that: ‘the most important thing is the first proclamation; Jesus Christ has saved you.’

The literal-minded can read that as an heretical statement, but no one surveying Francis’ record can doubt he is what he claims to be, a loyal son of the Church. He means what Jesus meant – salvation is offered to all; I can see why some Calvinists might disagree, not why any Catholic would. If anyone doubts that the Church ‘needs new roads’ to reach those ‘who do not attend Mass’ and to ‘those who have quit or are indifferent’, then I can only wonder why? The Church is not here to minister to the saved sheep alone, it has to go out there and find the lost ones.  If people do not know Christ, they will not be open, he has said to the moral teaching of the Church. Here, from abortion to ‘gay marriage’ and contraception, he has said little, and that is because these things are settled; he is not changing his views, nor can he, any more than the Church can. Francis is not concerned to say what is obvious; he is concerned with what is not obvious to the outsider – which is that the Church is a Missionary Church and exists to bring souls to the Lord.

Like any missionary, Francis is emphasising the proclamation of the good news; only when men have received that are they open to God. He seeks to find, he says:

‘new balance, otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the fragrance and freshness of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.’

This was the message of Peter and Paul, and it is the message of the Church throughout eternity; the salt must not lose its savour. Benedict XVI is a great theologian and was a great Pope, but he feared that the in the future the Church would become smaller. In that he reflected the perspective of a European. Francis comes from a part of the world where the Church is still growing, and he brings with him the confidence that it can grow – even in Europe. Much as I admire Benedict, on this issue, I prefer the optimism of the Evangelist in Francis.