While Pope Francis has generated worldwide headlines with his call for the church to get its hands dirty in evangelization, as well as criticizing greedy capitalism, some local priests and ministers say it’s nothing new for the church.
The 200-plus page apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” issued Thursday, Nov. 26, does not carry the full weight of an encyclical, but is one of the most authoritative statements a Pope can make to the world’s one billion Roman Catholics.
The document, written in Francis’ simple, down-to-earth style urges the church to hit the streets and shift emphasis towards helping the poor and downtrodden in a call to evangelization.
Francis also takes to task the idea that free markets should be absolutely autonomous and are always correct.
He called for employment, better education, and access to health care to enhance the dignity of people’s lives, according to publication Catholic New York.
Father Richard Gorman, who worked the papal message into Sunday homilies, said its social justice themes have been part of church teaching going back to the industrial revolution and the roots of the church.
Pope Francis, he said, is picking up from where Pope Benedict XVI had spoken about as “New Evangelism.”
“You can see the scholarship and academia of Pope Benedict…but then you can see Francisisms, these very witty, down-to-earth things that Francis is famous for,” said Gorman. “For instance when he says that a person filled with the joy for the gospel should not look like they just came back from a funeral. That is what struck me when I read it last week.”
The pope is saying that Jesus is as much a part of our lives as the people we work with and ride the subway with, and it is through having a joyful “relationship” with Jesus that Catholics can hopefully convince others to do the same.
He noted that Pope Francis is not the first Pope to criticise elements of free markets, citing Pope Leo XVIII’s evocation of working people’s rights. According to the website cacatholic.org, this was articulated in an 1891 encyclical called Rerum Novarum (“Of New Things”) that “spoke of the condition of the working classes during a time when many advocated revolution.”
In Throggs Neck, Father Stephen Norton of St. Benedict’s also said that the document was not a new teaching, but an emphasis of the new pope’s direction, probably charted in part because of his roots in South America.
“The Catholic church and Popes specifically have a long history of promoting and putting forth social justice issues,” said Norton.
Taking care of the poor extends back to the gospels and roots of the church, and Francis is simply reiterating the need to take care of the poor and helping those who are marginalized in anyway.
Norton said that the message is one that resonated and complements not just Catholicism, but the teachings of many other faiths.
On City Island, Pastor Ezra Hongchang Yew of Trinity United Methodist Church has been following the news of the apostolic exhortation in the media.
“I am very much excited that Pope Francis has raised his voice,” he said, “I like him a lot and have great hope.”