On the 13th of March 2023, Pope Francis clocks 10 years of his Pontificate as the universal leader of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church globally celebrates a decade of Pope Francis’ servant leadership since 2013 when he was elevated to the higher office as the Pontiff. Pope Francis has had a unique leadership style of bringing the Church to the periphery and ensuring the inclusion of all through synodality and demystification of clericalism. The impact of Pope Francis’ headship has been greatly felt all over the world with positive reforms to transform the Church and make it a home for all everyone. The Papal Nuncio to Zimbabwe, Archbishop Paolo Rudelli in an interview with Br. Alfonce Kugwa, Editor of the Catholic Church News describes the contribution of Pope Francis to the growth of the Church and his efforts to bring peace in the world.
AK: This is the 10th anniversary of Pope Francis’s pontificate. What can you say has been the joys and tribulations of the Holy Father?
Nuncio: First of all, on this anniversary we have to thank God for the gift given to the Church and to the world through the pontificate of Pope Francis. Speaking about joys and tribulations, I think that like any father, Pope Francis shares the joys and tribulations of his children. I am thinking in this moment of the Church, engaged in the synodal process, a Church which has many different experiences at the same time: from enthusiasm and growth to decline and crisis, from freedom and flowering to persecution and suffering. I am thinking of a world heavily marked with many wars and injustices, but of course also with so many acts of generosity and love. The Pope has the privilege of being father to so many children, so he has for sure a big heart.
AK: What is the Pope’s vision of the Church
Nuncio: We could say that “missionary conversion” is the key idea that Pope Francis is stressing to emphasize his vision. The Church should be ready to reform herself and convert herself: structures, activities, ways of doing things: all should be more and more focused on the only goal of announcing to the world, the good news that God is a Father who loves his children until the very end, as we can see in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
AK: How can you describe his leadership style of the Church?
Nuncio: Pope Francis is calling the Church to reform and renew herself, with the consciousness that we are living in a turning point of human history, that he called “not an era of change but a change of era.” In doing so, the Holy Father did not dictate the roadmap for the Church. He asked the Church to meet together, at all levels, from the smallest community to the continental and world level, and to undertake a “synodal journey”. Synod means to walk together, and it is also a definition of the Church as such. Here I see the Pope’s leadership style: to promote a walking together under the light of the Holy Spirit, to listen to everybody and try to discern where the Spirit itself is leading the Church, in a living dialogue between people of God and the Bishops, the Bishops and the Bishop or Rome.
AK: What is Pope Francis’ message for Africa?
Nuncio: I think that during his recent apostolic visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and to South Sudan, Pope Francis delivered quite clear messages. First, to the rich countries: hands off Africa; stop choking Africa, Africa is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered. Second, to African political authorities: “Power is meaningful only if it becomes a form of service”; he asked to operate with crystalline clarity, avoiding the darkness of injustice and corruption, to promote reconciliation, the participation of the marginalized, and to assure free and credible elections.
Finally, there was a message for the Churches in Africa: walk with your peoples, be a sign of God’s promise to open new paths in the midst of our deserts. Show to your peoples God’s compassion, have the courage to “step into the middle”, to intercede for them and to promote paths of reconciliation and peace in the midst of a world marked by violence and war.
AK: What would you say are Pope Francis’ strengths in addressing global political, economic and social challenges?
Nuncio: The Pope’s strength comes from the Gospel he is announcing and serving. The Gospel has something to do with and something to say to the present economic and social challenges. In this respect, the Pope speaks up as a prophetic voice, reinterpreting in the context of our days Jesus’ message of peace, justice and reconciliation.
Furthermore, the Pope’s voice has a particular strength because it represents the Catholic Church: millions of people all around the world, who want to live those ideals and put into practice what the Pope is saying.
AK: The issue of child abuses and abuse of vulnerable persons is not only a European problem but is also experienced in Africa and Zimbabwe. Do you think the Pope will manage to contain this and how?
Nuncio: The Pope will continue to lead the Church towards a path of no tolerance against any form of abuse. It is up to us, as the Church in Zimbabwe, to put every effort in order to follow diligently the path marked out by Pope Francis and his predecessors. A lot have been accomplished in this respect in Zimbabwe, but of course, a lot remains to be done, most of all because this is a permanent and daily commitment, not something achieved once and for all.
AK: Do you think the Pope’s visit to DRC and South Sudan in his 10th anniversary will have an impact in African politics and in Catholic faith?
Nuncio: Pope Francis’ visit to DRC and South Sudan will for sure have a huge impact for those two countries, particularly South Sudan, both on the political life and on the life of the Catholic Church. It is worthy stressing the ecumenical dimension of the visit to South Sudan: The Holy Father went there together with the leaders of two other Churches historically present in South Sudan who are the Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of the Anglican Communion, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
The Pope’s visit has contributed to raise the world’s attention to areas and people so often forgotten by the mainstream public opinion. Apart from that, we are sure that the visit has been a gift from God, a seed that has been planted and that will bring its fruit.
AK: How can the Church in Zimbabwe best celebrate this special anniversary for the Pope?
Nuncio: Praying for Pope Francis is the first and best way to celebrate this special anniversary. There will be a special mass to pray for the Pope at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on Wednesday, 12 April at 5pm, after the ZCBC Plenary meeting.
Apart from that, another very good way of celebrating would be to deepen our knowledge of the Pope’s teaching. For instance, we could revisit, ten years later, the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which is the programmatic text of his Pontificate, and ask ourselves how we can better implement the Pope’s vision in our concrete realities: parishes, lay associations, dioceses, religious congregations etc.
AK: How best can the local Church advance its mission of evangelization in line with Pope Francis’s vision?
Nuncio: I would take, again, inspiration from what Pope Francis said during his recent apostolic visit to Congo. Speaking to the Bishops of that country, he took inspiration from the Congolese rainforest and said: “This immense verdant expanse that is your forest is also an image that speaks to our Christian life. As a Church we need to breathe the pure air of the Gospel, to dispel the tainted air of worldliness, to safeguard the young heart of faith. That is how I imagine the African Church: a young, dynamic and joyful Church, motivated by missionary zeal, by the good news that God loves us and that Jesus is Lord. Yours is a Church present in the lived history of this people, deeply rooted in its daily life, and in the forefront of charity. It is a community capable of attracting others, filled with infectious enthusiasm and therefore, like your forests, with plenty of oxygen”.
AK: The oxygen and the forest bring us to Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si. An Encyclical which resonates very well with the Sustainable Development Goal (13) of Climate Action. Do you think the Church in Zimbabwe is doing enough in line with protection of the environment and how best can they enhance this?
Nuncio: The awareness of climate change’s impact on our life and on the life of our common home, the planet Earth, is something relatively recent. From this point of view, the publication of the Encyclical letter Laudato Si’ in 2015 has been providential. It was a new step in the development of the social doctrine of the Church, and it had a big impact in Catholic communities all around the world, inspiring a lot of initiatives and most of all, a new mentality about the need of an “ecological conversion”, as the Pope calls it. I have the impression that the Encyclical has been taken seriously by the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe and is causing reflections and concrete actions in many places. Of course, we cannot say that the ecological conversion is something already accomplished.
In order to contribute to this process, the Apostolic Nunciature, together with the Arrupe Jesuit University, has launched last year the “Pope Francis Youth Award for Faith and Social Transformation”, an annual competition that wants to recognize concrete initiatives promoted by youth groups and individuals in order to put into practice the social teaching of the Church. In 2023 we celebrate the second edition, the award ceremony will be at the end of September: I make an appeal to Catholic youth to participate and to engage themselves in transforming our world inspired by faith.