Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Pope Francis and the Theology of the People

by Juan Carlos Scannone, S.J. (English translation by Rebel Girl) Mensaje
August 2014

When, at the 2013 Rimini Festival, the Argentine priest "Pepe" DiPaola alluded to the ministry then Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio promoted in the slums of Buenos Aires, he acknowledged himself and his companions as "sons of the Theology of the People" and he added, "In Argentina, we have two very important individuals with whom we were trained in that theology -- Fathers Lucio Gera and Rafael Tello." Thus, his statements were a reflection of how the link between that theology and the ministry and preferential option for the poor of the one who is Pope Francis today is acknowledged in this country.

In fact, when Gera died in 2012, Cardinal Bergoglio had him buried in the Buenos Aires Cathedral, in consideration of his role as expert at the Second Vatican Council and the Latin American Bishops' Conference (CELAM) meetings in Medellin (1968) and Puebla (1979). Another piece of background information is that, the same year, when Father Enrique Bianchi published a book about Tello, the archbishop himself presented it to the public.1

The antecedents to this theme relate to the story of how the Theology of the People emerged.2 Upon its return from the Second Vatican Council, the Argentine Episcopal Conference created the Comisión Episcopal de Pastoral ("Bishops Commission for Pastoral Ministry" - COEPAL)  in 1966. It was made up of bishops, theologians, and religious, among whom were the aforementioned Gera and Tello, who were diocesan priests and professors at the Faculty of Theology in Buenos Aires then. COEPAL ceased to exist in 1973, but several of its members continued to meet as a theological reflection group under Gera's leadership. The latter served as an expert at Medellin and Puebla, was a member of the CELAM theological-pastoral team, and later served on the International Theological Commission.

In a political context marked by the dictatorship of Juan Carlos Onganía, the proscription of Peronism and the emergence of social protest at the University of Buenos Aires, the so-called National Professorships in Sociology were born. Distancing themselves from both liberalism and Marxism, these professorships and COEPAL found their conceptualization in Latin American and Argentine history with categories such as "people" and "anti-people", "peoples" as opposed to "empires", "popular culture", "popular religiosity", etc. In the case of Gera and COEPAL, this involved mainly considering the People of God -- a biblical label preferred by the Council to designate the Church and its relationship with the people, especially of Argentina. It is noteworthy that one of Bergoglio's characteristic expressions is "a faithful people", whose popular faith and piety he values highly.

Likewise, what was at stake for COEPAL was not only "the emergence of the laity within the Church, but also the Church's insertion in the historical course of the peoples" inasmuch as the latter are subjects of history and culture, both recipients and agents of evangelization, thanks to their inculturated faith.

Dependency theory -- as well as the rest of Latin American theology of that time -- influenced the members of that commission. They understood it mainly based on political and also economic domination, framing both in integral liberation from sin.


COEPAL understood the category "people", first of all, as a people -- a nation, thinking of the diverse entity of a common culture rooted in a common history, and projected towards a shared common good. The historical dimension is fundamental to this conception of "people", and also involves careful discernment -- from pastors and politicians -- of the "signs of the times" in the life of the people and peoples which -- for believers -- are also indices of God's provident will.

In Latin America it is the poor who, at least in practice, preserve the culture of their people as the organizing principle of their lives and coexistence (Puebla Document 414), just as their historical memory and their interests coincide with a common historical project of justice and peace, being that they are oppressed by structural injustice. Thus, in Latin America, at least de facto, the option for the poor and for the culture coincide.

I once asked Jesuit Fernando Boasso why COEPAL, of which he was a member, had given priority to the issue of culture. He answered that it had taken it from paragraph 53 of the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (1965). It should be noted that the wording of paragraph 386 of the Declaration of Puebla (one of those mainly responsible for it was Gera) shows how the just mentioned conciliar Constitution was interpreted from a Latin American perspective: the more humanistic conciliar meaning of culture from the Gaudium et Spes document is shifted towards the meaning that the Council then related to its "historical and social aspect" and called "sociological and ethnological meaning." Puebla reinterpreted that constitution and changed the angle of approach of its understanding of culture.

Theology of the People does not ignore the pressing social conflicts in Latin America, although, in its understanding of "people", it favors unity over conflict (a priority, then, repeatedly affirmed by Bergoglio). It doesn't take class struggle as a "determining hermeneutic principle" for understanding society and history 3 but gives historical place to conflict -- even class conflict, conceiving it based on the prior unity of the people. Thus, institutional and structural injustice is understood as a betrayal of the latter by a part of it, which thus becomes anti-people.


What has been said up to this point affects the consideration of popular piety. Religion (or the negative attitude towards the religious) -- following Paul Tillich -- is assumed as the nucleus of a people's culture whereas, on the other hand, reference is made with Paul VI to the piety "of the poor and simple" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1975, 48). However, any opposition is only apparent if we consider that, at least in practice in Latin America, it is the latter who better preserve the common culture, its values and symbols (even religious ones), those that by their very nature tend to be shared widely, being able to form in our countries the germ of conversion -- in the non-poor -- to achieve the liberation of all.

Thus, the religion of the people, if they have been authentically evangelized, far from being an opiate, not only has evangelizing potential but also of human liberation as the popular reading of the Bible has demonstrated in practice. Hence, let the bishops' meeting at Puebla be considered an authentic continuation of the one held in Medellin, although it took new contributions about the evangelization of culture and popular piety from the exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975). It can be proved that the Synod of 1974 addressed the issue of evangelization both under the influence of the Theology of the People and thanks to Latin American bishops such as the one who later would become Cardinal Eduardo Pironio. That is how Paul VI recorded these contributions in the just mentioned exhortation which, in turn, was applied by Puebla to Latin America and enriched by new contributions, e.g. Gera's in "Evangelización de la cultura" ["The evangelization of culture"] and the Chilean Joaquín Alliende in "Religiosidad popular" ["Popular Religiosity"].4 Thus a virtuous spiral between Latin America and Rome was generated. Well, having begun in Argentina, it was brought to the center by the Synod. There, Paul VI deepened it, and it was taken up again at Puebla where it was newly enriched, as it also was at Aparecida. Now it returns to Rome with Pope Francis who is bringing it to fruition and offering it to the universal Church again.

An important novelty is the importance that Puebla gives -- along the lines of theology of the people -- to "folk wisdom" in the two sections of the document mentioned above (numbers 413 and 448, respectively). It relates the religion of the people with wisdom knowledge, which does not replace the scientific one, but places it existentially, complements and confirms it. Theology of the People considers religion to be key as a mediation between people's faith and an inculturated theology. 5 And Pope Francis recognizes its importance when he speaks of connatural knowledge, following Thomas Aquinas and, likewise, the Puebla Document and Gera.

Later, the CELAM meeting at Aparecida (2007) discerned in Latin American popular piety, popular moments of real spirituality and mysticism (Aparecida Document 258-265, especially 262). Jorge Seibold, a theology of the people pastoral worker, already pointed this out when he introduced the "popular mysticism" category.6 As we shall see, the pope refers to that twice in Evangelii Gaudium. Taking it into account is a new challenge today in and outside of Latin America.


In 1982, I distinguished four currents in Latin American liberation theology. 7 Among them, I placed theology of the people, a name Juan Luis Segundo gave it when criticizing it, but that Sebastián Politi also adopted when championing it. Gutiérrez characterizes it as "a current with its own traits within liberation theology" and Roberto Oliveros as an aspect of the latter, pejoratively calling it "populist theology." Then the aforementioned label -- which certainly isn't the only possible one -- was accepted by liberation theologians like Joáo Batista Libánio, and by its critics, such as Methol and Antonio Quarracino, when presenting the instruction Libertatis Nuntius (1984). 8

Among the "traits" mentioned by Gutiérrez, in addition to those of a thematic nature pointed out by me in the first part of this article, there are others of a methodological sort related to the first ones: the use of historical and cultural analysis, favoring it above the socio-structural one (which is not discarded); the use -- as a means to know reality and transform it --  of more synthetic and hermeneutical sciences such as history, culture and religion, thus completing the spectrum of analytical and structural sciences; the aforementioned rooting of said scientific means in wisdom knowledge and discernment by "the affective connaturality born of love" (Evangelii Gaudium 125) which, in turn, confirms them, a critical distancing from the Marxist method of social analysis and categories of understanding and corresponding action strategies.

The two Instructions by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1984 and 1986 helped prevent extreme positions. For his part, John Paul II in his April 9, 1986 message to the bishops of Brazil, gave church recognition to liberation theology not just as "timely, but [as] useful and necessary," and as "a new phase" in the Church's theological and social reflection, provided that it is in continuity with the latter.9

Years later, in September 1996, the leadership of CELAM, with the participation of the authorities of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (among them, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone), brought together in Schönstatt (Germany) a relatively small group of Latin American theologians and experts to reflect on "the future of theology in Latin America." They were asked to elaborate on four themes, to my knowledge -- liberation theology, the social doctrine of the Church, communitarianism and the theology of culture.

These were deemed the most relevent subjects for Latin American theology in the third millenium. The first of these was entrusted to Gustavo Gutiérrez and the fourth to Carlos Galli, with the order to present the theology of Gera, his teacher. That is, a decisive role for the theological future of Latin America was acknowledged both for the main stem of liberation theology and for the Argentine current.10 After Gutiérrez's brilliant statement, Ratzinger explicitely praised his Christocentrism and sense of gratitude.


Since his exit onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica after his election, Pope Francis has made symbolic gestures, given interviews, spoken as head of the Church and issued a sort of "roadmap" of his pontificate in the post-synodal exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which, in many features, recalls the Argentine theology of the people. Hence the question about the likely points of convergence between his pastoral perspective and that theology.

In this third part I will consider, among said points of convergence, first, his understanding of the faithful people of God. Then, that of the peoples of the earth in their relationship to this faithful people in their historical-cultural construction as peoples. Third, I will address the pastoral and theological evaluation of popular piety, and finally, the relationship of the latter to the poor.


The Pope's gesture of having himself blessed by the people almost immediately after presenting himself to them was striking. Those of us who knew his theological appreciation for the "faithful people of God" -- an appreciation which involves, at the same time, a specific way of conceiving the Church and the recognition of the "sense of faith" of the people and of the role of the laity in it -- were not astonished. Hence his preference for the term "faithful people", which is also repeated in Evangelii Gaudium (EG 95, 96) and which he explicitly recognizes as "a mystery rooted in the Trinity, yet she exists concretely in history as a people of pilgrims and evangelizers, transcending any institutional expression, however necessary."(EG 111; cf 95) It is that people as a whole who proclaim the Gospel. God "has chosen -- he says -- calls [us] together as a people and not as isolated individuals...[He] attracts us by taking into account the complex interweaving of personal relationships entailed in the life of a human community."(EG 113)

In these texts one hears echoes of Scripture and of Vatican II, but also of the theology of the people, especially in respect to the peoples, their cultures and their history: "The People of God is incarnate in the peoples of the earth, each of which has its own culture...It has to do with the lifestyle of a given society, the specific way in which its members relate to one another, to other creatures and to God...Grace supposes culture, and God’s gift becomes flesh in the culture of those who receive it." (EG 115) I note that Francis has adopted the reinterpretation of Gaudium et Spes 53 that the Puebla Document makes, following the theology of the people. I also remember that when Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio was rector of the Facultad de San Miguel, he organized the first congress of the evangelization of culture and the inculturation of the Gospel that took place in Latin America (1985). He programmed it with the presence of theologians from North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, and, in the opening speech, he talked about inculturation, quoting Father Pedro Arrupe, a pioneer in the use of that neologism.

Therefore, Pope Francis, when he is talking about the People of God, is referring to its "varied face" (Evangelii Gaudium 116) and its "multifaceted harmony" (ibid. 117) thanks to the diversity of cultures that enrich it. When he alludes to the peoples, he uses the image of the polyhedron as an analogy to mark the plural unity of the irreducible differences within it.

Also, along the same line as the theology of the people, he accentuates traditional doctrine when he acknowledges that "God furnishes the totality of the faithful with an instinct of faith – sensus fidei – which helps them to discern what is truly of God. The presence of the Spirit gives Christians a certain connaturality with divine realities, and a wisdom which enables them to grasp those realities intuitively, even when they lack the wherewithal to give them precise expression" (Evangelii Gaudium 119) -- moreover, "the flock itself has a nose for finding new ways" (ibid. 31) of evangelization.


The Argentine bishops -- including Cardinal Bergoglio -- following the approaches of Theology of the People and enriching them, adopted the Argentine Justice and Peace Commission's proposal on moving from "inhabitants to citizens." This illustrates what Pope Francis, in even greater depth, writes about people-nation in Evangelii Gaudium 220: "People in every nation enhance the social dimension of their lives by acting as committed and responsible citizens, not as a mob swayed by the powers that be...Yet becoming a people demands something more. It is an ongoing process in which every new generation must take part: a slow and arduous effort calling for a desire for integration and a willingness to achieve this through the growth of a peaceful and multifaceted culture of encounter." Let us note that typical expression of his: "culture of encounter".

Already as Provincial of the Jesuits, Bergoglio stated, and then as Archbishop of Buenos Aires explained in more detail, government priorities leading to the common good12, namely: 1) the superiority of the whole over the parts (being more than a mere sum of the parts), 2) that of reality over ideas, 3) unity over conflict, 4) time over space. Reportedly, they are taken from the letter of Juan Manuel de Rosas (Governor of Buenos Aires) to Facundo Quiroga (Governor of La Rioja, Argentina) about the national organization, written from the Figueroa estate in San Antonio de Areco (December 20, 1834). Rosas doesn't make these options explicit, although he takes them into account. Later -- now as Pope -- Francis introduced the last two priorities in the encyclical Lumen Fidei (55 and 57). Finally he develops and articulates them in Evangelii Gaudium 217-237, presenting them as a contribution based on Christian social thought "for building a people" (first, the peoples of the world, but also the People of God).


The Exhortation begins with the priority of time over space, since it's about initiating "processes of people-building" in history (Evangelii Gaudium 224; 223) rather than occupying spaces of power and/or possession (lands or wealth).

In my opinion, the spiritual sense of the proper time for the right decision, be it existential, interpersonal, pastoral, social, or political, is part of the Ignatian charisma and is intimately connected with the discernment of spirits. In his theology, Gera recognizes its importance for prophets, pastors, and politicians. And Methol is known for his geopolitical analyses and Christian interpretation of the current signs of the times and the Latin American Church as already turned into a source Church. For his part, Bergoglio, as a Jesuit, participates in that charisma of discernment, and probably knew the previously mentioned theoretical contributions of these thinkers. Nevertheless, he doesn't leave space out but considers it based on time, since he crowns his thoughts by saying, "Time governs spaces, illumines them and makes them links in a constantly expanding chain, with no possibility of return." (ibid., 223)


Theology of the People recognizes the reality of anti-people, conflict, and the fight for justice. Also on this point there is in the Pope's thought not just intelligently received influx, but also deep evangelical and theological study. So he states that one cannot ignore conflicts, or let oneself be trapped in them or make them the key to progress. On the contrary, it's about "the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process.'Blessed are the peacemakers!' (Mt 5:9)" (EG, 227), not the peace of the graveyards but of "communion amid disagreement", "a life setting where conflicts, tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity" (ibid., 228), "a cultural covenant", a "reconciled diversity" (ibid., 230). So "this is not to opt for a kind of syncretism, or for the absorption of one into the other, but rather for a resolution which takes place on a higher plane and preserves what is valid and useful on both sides" (ibid., 228). I remember that Bergoglio wanted to do his doctoral thesis on Romano Guardini, consulted his archives, and it was devoted to his understanding of the dialectical dynamics (not in the Hegelian or Marxist sense!) of opposites13 to apply it to praxis and history, since their union happens fully in Christ (ibid., 229). The ultimate foundation of his promoted "culture of encounter" is there, in non-ignorance of the reality of conflict.


There is also a bipolar tension between realities and ideas (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi 231) since the latter are based on the former, not separate from them, otherwise the danger of manipulating them exists. "Formal nominalism has to give way to harmonious objectivity," the Pope says (ibid., 232). According to him, "this principle has to do with incarnation of the word and its being put into practice" since -- he adds -- "not to put the word into practice, not to make it reality, is to build on sand, to remain in the realm of pure ideas and to end up in a lifeless and unfruitful self-centredness and gnosticism." (ibid., 233)

I don't see an immediate connection between this priority and Theology of the People -- like in the previous cases, unless it's in the latter's critique of ideologies, of both liberal and Marxist stamp, and in its seach for hermeneutical categories based on the Latin American historical reality, especially of the poor.


The Pope connects this principle with the tension between globalization and localization (cf Evangelii Gaudium 234). Regarding the latter, it converges with the historical and cultural roots of the Theology of the People, socially and hermeneutically situated in Latin America and Argentina, and with its emphasis on the incarnation of the Gospel -- transcultural in itself -- by inculturating it in popular Catholicism.

As for globalization, COEPAL did not explicitly take it into account when it was still just an emerging phenomenon. Then its successors did, like Alberto Methol Ferré and Gerardo Farrell, and the interdisciplinary work of the Grupo de Pensamiento Social de la Iglesia ["Group on the Social Thought of the Church"] which took the name of the latter, after his death.

Here again Bergoglio moves towards a higher synthesis that does not erase the tensions, but understands them, gives them life, makes them fruitful and open to the future. Since, as I've said, for him "the model is not the sphere, which is no greater than its parts, where every point is equidistant from the centre, and there are no differences between them. The model is the polyhedron, which reflects the convergence of all its parts, each of which preserves its distinctiveness." And almost immediately, he adds: "t is the convergence of peoples who, within the universal order, maintain their own individuality; it is the sum total of persons within a society which pursues the common good, which truly has a place for everyone."(Evangelii Gaudium 236) Without using the word, the Pope is pointing to multiculturalism.

Previously, Pope Francis had offered the Trinitarian foundation for this: "The same Spirit is that harmony, just as he is the bond of love between the Father and the Son. It is he who brings forth a rich variety of gifts, while at the same time creating a unity which is never uniformity but a multifaceted and inviting harmony."(ibid., 117) The attraction of beauty -- it's another characteristic of the approach of the Pope that never ceases to converge with Methol's approaches.


A distinctive feature of the Theology of the People is its theological and pastoral revaluation of the religion of the people, so that it comes to recognize a "people's mysticism," as is also done in the Aparecida Document 262. Evangelii Gaudium refers to this twice, for example, when it exemplifies the superiority of the whole over the parts, stating that "people's mysticism receives in its own way the entire Gospel and embodies it in expressions of prayer, fraternity, justice, struggle and celebration." (ibid., 124, 237)

Evangelii Gaudium also converges with the Theology of the People when it relates popular piety with other key themes for both such as the inculturation of the Gospel (ibid., 68,69, 70) and "the neediest" and their "social advancement" (ibid.,70). Both distinguish it clearly from "Christianity made up of devotions reflecting an individual and sentimental faith life" (ibid.), without denying, nonetheless, the need for an ulterior "purification and growth" of that religiosity, for which "popular piety is precisely the best starting point" (ibid.,69), as the exhortation itself proposes.

When the latter refers to "the new relationships brought by Christ", it connects them spontaneously with popular religiosity, recognizing that its "genuine forms...are incarnate, since they are born of the incarnation of Christian faith in popular culture. For this reason they entail a personal relationship, not with harmonizing energies, but with God, with Christ, with Mary, with a saint. They have flesh, they have a face. They are capable of fostering relationships and not just enabling selfish flights."(ibid., 90).

One of Pope Francis'  richest and most profound insights on the religion of the people took place in Rio de Janeiro before CELAM, when he presented it as an expression of lay creativity, healthy autonomy and freedom, in the context of his criticism of the temptation to clericalism in the Church. Well, he acknowledged it as a manifestation of "Catholics as a people", in their communal and adult character in the faith, just as he commended bodies then characteristic of Latin America, such as Bible study groups and base church communities.14

An obvious example of convergence with the Theology of the People is offered in Evangelii Gaudium when, citing Puebla Document 450 (and 264), he concludes that, through its popular piety, "the people continuously evangelizes itself", if it comes to peoples "among whom the Gospel has been inculturated" (Evangelii Gaudium 122; cf. 68). For each of them "is the creator of their own culture and the protagonist of their own history. Culture is a dynamic reality which a people constantly recreates; each generation passes on a whole series of ways of approaching different existential situations to the next generation, which must in turn reformulate it as it confronts its own challenges."(ibid.) Then, "in their process of transmitting their culture they also transmit the faith in ever new forms; hence the importance of understanding evangelization as inculturation. Each portion of the people of God, by translating the gift of God into its own life and in accordance with its own genius, bears witness to the faith it has received and enriches it with new and eloquent expressions."(ibid.) Let it be noted that he is not talking about a mere external cultural transmission, but a living collective witness. Therefore he adds, "This is an ongoing and developing process, of which the Holy Spirit is the principal agent." (ibid.)

I'm not going to quote at length these important paragraphs of Evangelii Gaudium, but only note that it then returns to speak a second time of "people's mysticism" as "a spirituality incarnated in the culture of the lowly", and that although it "in the act of faith places a greater accent on credere in Deum than on credere Deum" -- this reminds me of Tello's expressions -- however, "it is not devoid of content; rather it discovers and expresses that content more by way of symbols than by instrumental reasoning." Moreover, "it brings with itself the grace of being a missionary, of coming out of oneself and setting out on pilgrimage." (ibid., 124)

A little later, almost tracing Lucio Gera and the Puebla Document, he teaches that "only from the affective connaturality born of love can we appreciate the theological life present in the piety of Christian peoples, especially among their poor." (ibid., 125).

Moreover, the exhortation culminates the treatment of popular religiosity by accepting, with the Theology of the People, not only its pastoral but its strictly theological relevance, as it concludes by saying, "The expressions of popular piety...for those who are capable of reading them, are a locus theologicus to which we should pay attention, especially when we are thinking about the new evangelization."(ibid., 126).

The Spirit blows when and where it wills. Well, I think that today in secular spaces of the North, where "God shines by His absence" 15, from the South, the living and heartfelt witness of the piety "of the poor and lowly" and their "people's mysticism" is offered as a contribution to the new evangelization. (cf. Ibid., 126)

But the Pope is not naive and he doesn't ignore that "in recent decades there has been a breakdown in the generational transmission of the Christian faith among the Catholic people," to which he referred in Evangelii Gaudium 122. He had already warned about it as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. So he not only auscultates its causes (ibid., 70), but advocates for urban ministry (ibid., 71-75) since "God lives in the city" (Aparecida Document, 514), although His presence must be "found, uncovered" (Evangelii Gaudium 71) not lastly in the "'non-citizens', 'half citizens' and 'urban remnants'" (ibid., 74), that is, the poor and excluded, and their "struggle for survival" which "contains within it a profound understanding of life which often includes a deep religious sense." (ibid., 72)


I emphasized the close connection between the preferential option for the poor and popular piety as lived out in Latin America, especially in the poor areas. Well, although the whole Church including the popes have assumed this option, there is no doubt that LIBERATION THEOLOGY in all its currents, in Argentina too, is characterized by making that option its starting point and hermeneutic locus.

The new Pope, from the choice of his name, has shown his emphasis on preferential love for the poor, the marginalized, the excluded, the unemployed, the sick, the disabled, the "rejected", the "remnants" -- so much that some have said that his first visits outside of Rome to Lampedusa and Sardinia, and his meeting there with the migrant refugees and the unemployed, functioned symbolically as true encyclicals.

He doesn't just declare that "solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognize that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property" (Evangelii Gaudium 189) according to Catholic doctrine, but then he states, "For the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one." (ibid., 198) Hence he again expresses what he has already said on other occasions: "This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them." (ibid.)

But Francis also doesn't stop seeing the other side of the coin. Hence he criticizes "an economy [that] kills" (ibid., 53), the "fetishism of money" (ibid., 55) and a "social and economic system ... unjust at its root" (ibid., 59), due to "ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation." (ibid., 56, 202) He states that "God, in Christ, redeems not only the individual person, but also the social relations existing between men" (ibid., 178), so that we Christians have to fight, without violence but with historical efficacy, for "the social inclusion of the poor" (ibid., 185) and against "an economy of exclusion and inequality" (ibid., 53) and "evil crystallized in unjust social structures." (ibid., 59)

I do not intend to develop the subject of the poor according to Pope Francis here because it's too obvious and known but, in the present context, at least I should mention it as an essential point of convergence between his teaching, the social teaching of the Church, and the theology of the people. In all three cases it is more than a mere theory; it was its embodiment in existential social practices (even structural ones) that made the "incarnation of the Gospel" and the "revolution of tenderness" (ibid., 88) a reality.


Karl Rahner, although he didn't know Latin America personally, had a fine sense of the current theological scene. Therefore he perceived even then as important contributions of the Latin American Church and theology to the universal Church and theology, two characteristic areas of life and reflection that the Church on that continent made -- liberation theology and the religion of the people -- and so he compiled and edited a book on each of them. 16 Well, both are characteristic of the theology of the people and -- in my opinion -- are also part of the fresh air from the south that burst into the Church through the Pope who came "from the ends of the world."

Since reality is superior to ideas I think that, in addition to the new ideas that Francis brought to the papacy -- about which I've spoken in this article -- there is something even more important brought by the reality of his persona and his charisma, namely a radical transformation of temperament in the Church and outside it too.

I agree with Ricoeur that history, including that of the Church and its relationship with the world in the last year, can be interpreted like a text.17 Well, according to him, not just what is said in it but also the pragmatic point of how it is said -- with what existential attitude and spiritual temper, what emotional tone and experience go along with it -- is part of the meaning of the text. One finds objective indices of it in the style of the text and the repetition of words.

Well then, the last year of his pontificate, taken as a text, and the Evangelii Gaudium text itself seem to me to reflect a new temperament in the Church, both in the Pope's speeches and in the creative response of the faithful People. Such temperament becomes clear in the reiterated textual, gestural and experiential leitmotifs like "joy of the Gospel", "revolution of tenderness", "culture of encounter", etc. They are the opposite of attitudes of acedia, disappointment and individualistic isolation; and, above all, they bear witness to and make obvious the joy of evangelizing and being missionary-disciples, joyful divestment, preferential love for the poor, the mercy of Jesus, the hope of the Kingdom and "a different possible world". But these are not separate tonalities but elements that form a harmonic "system of attitudes" (ibid., 122) that reveal and spread the joy of the Gospel. MSJ


* This text is a synthesized version, prepared for Mensaje, of the article with the same title published by the author in La Civilta Catlolica (issue no. 3930, March 15, 2014).

1. See Enrique C. Bianchi, Pobres en este mundo, ricos en la fe: La fe de los pobres en América Latina según Rafael Tello, Buenos Aires, Ágape, 2012.

2. In the first two parts of the present work, I pick up paragraphs from my article "Aportaciones de la teología argentina del pueblo a la teología latinoamericana" in Sergio Torres G. - Carlos Abrigo O. (eds.), Actualidad y vigencia de la teología latinoamericana. Renovación y proyección, Santiago, Chile, U. Católica Silva Henríquez, 2012, pp. 203-225.

[Translator's note: There is no footnote no.3 in original printed text.]

4. Alliende refers glowingly to what he calls "the Argentina school of popular pastoral ministry" in “Diez tesis sobre pastoral popular”, Religiosidad popular, Salamanca, Sigúeme, 1976, p. 119.

5. About that mediation, see my book Evangelización, cultura y teología, Buenos Aires, Guadalupe, 1990 (2nd edition, with Introduction: ibid., Docencia, 2012). 6. See Jorge R. Seibold, La mística popular, Mexico, Buena Prensa, 2006. 7. I'm referring to my article "La teología de la liberación. Características, corrientes, etapas", Stromata 48 (1982), pp. 3-40. It was written for the book: Karl Neufeld (ed.), Problemi e prospettive di teologia dogmatica, Brescia, Queriniana, 1983.

8. I'm speaking, respectively, of: J.B. Libánio, Teologia da libertaçao. Roteiro didático para um estudo, Sao Paulo, Loyola, pp. 258 ff.; A. Methol Ferré, “De Rio de Janeiro a Puebla: 25 anni di storia”, Incontri 4 (1982), p. 4, y A.

9. See that message in: OR no. 904 (1986), paragraph 5.

10. G. Gutiérrez, "Una teología de la liberación en el contexto del Tercer Milenio", and C.M. Galli, "La teología latinoamericana de la cultura en las vísperas del Tercer Milenio" in Mons. Luciano Mendes de Almeida (et al), El futuro de la reflexión teológica en América Latina, Bogotá, CELAM, 1996, pp. 97-165 and 245-362 respectively. I was asked to write on the subject “El comunitarismo como alternativa viable”, ibid., pp. 195-241.

11. Bergoglio himself traces back to his theology studies his admiration for the fact that "the faithful people is infallible 'in credendo' -- in believing -- "and he expressed it thus for his own memory -- "when you want to know what the Church believes, go to the Magisterium, but when you want to know how the Church believes, go to the faithful people" -- see Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Meditaciones para religiosos, San Miguel, Ed. Diego de Torres, pp. 46 f. (see EG 124).

12. At the 14th provincial congregation (of the Jesuit Province of Argentina, February 18, 1974), he spoke as provincial about three of those criteria, without talking explicitely about the superiority of reality over ideas. See the work cited: Meditaciones para religiosos, pp. 49-50; he offered the presentation and development of the four in his speech as Archbishop of Buenos Aires at the XIII Jornada Arquidiocesana de Pastoral Social (2010): “Hacia un bicentenario en justicia y solidaridad 2010-2016. Nosotros como ciudadanos, nosotros como pueblo”. See www.arzbaires.org.ar/inicio/homilias/homilias2010.htm#XIII_Jornada_Arquidiocesana_de_Pastoral_Social

13. Cf. R. Guardini, Der Gegensatz: Versuche zu einer Philosophie des Lebendig-Konkreten, Mainz, Mathias Grünewald, 1955.

14. See the Pope's address during his meeting with CELAM (July 28, 2013), in Mons. Víctor M. Fernández (et al), De la Misión Continental (Aparecida, 2007) a la Misión Universal (JMJ, Río, 2013), Buenos Aires, Docencia, 2013, p. 287.

15. I am referring to the convergent expressions of European phenomenologists of religion like Bernhard Welte (cf. his book Das Licht des Nichts. Von der Móglichkeit neuer religiósen Erfahrung, Dusseldorf, Patmos, 1980, pp. 54 ff.) and Jean-Luc Marion ("Métaphysique et Phénoménologie: une relève pour la théologie", Bulletin de Littérature Ecclesiastique 94 (1993), pp. 189-206, especially p. 203).

16. See K. Rahner et al. (eds.) Befreiende Theologie. Der Beitrag Lateinamerikaszur Theologie der Gegenwart, Stuttgart-Berlin-Koln-Mainz, Kohlhammer, 1977; Idid., Volksreligion — Religion des Volkes, ibid, 1979. Rahner himself wrote the prologue of the first work, and “Einleitende Überlegungen zum Verhältnis von Theologie und Volksreligion” (pp. 9-16) for the second one. I had the honor to participate in both.

17. Cf. Paul Ricoeur, “Le modèle du texte: l’action sensée considérée comme un texte” and “Expliquer et comprendre. Sur quelques connexions remarquables entre la théorie du texte, la théorie de l’action et la théorie de l’histoire”, in id., Du texte à l’action. Essais d’herméneutique II, Paris, Seuil, 1986, respectively pp. 183-211 and 161-182.

Translator's note: This article quotes extensively from the exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. In some cases, the official English translation of that exhortation does not accurately convey the original Spanish text and therefore doesn't make sense in the context of this article. In those instances, I have taken the liberty of re-translating the applicable passages for greater clarity.

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