Pope Francis Hoped to Convert the World, But Has the World Converted the Church?

The watching world loved it. Here was a friendly, informal sort, who eschewed the traditional vestments for the occasion and spoke to the vast assembly in the same way he did when visiting the ordinary folk of the slums, as was his custom in Buenos Aires. The balcony appearance prefigured all that was to come in the subsequent decade.

Thirty-five years earlier, Pope John Paul II had begun instead with a pious declaration: “Praised be Jesus Christ!”

As between the two approaches, the latter is vertical, the former horizontal. A great flattening began that night.

Pope Francis spoke that same night about promoting a “great spirit of fraternity” in the world. He knew from the beginning though that emphasizing the second great commandment — love of neighbour — risked obscuring the first: love of God.

The next day, preaching to the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, he sounded a warning: “If we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church … When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness.”

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