The first leg of Francis’ Latin American visit is about to come to an end as tomorrow the Pope leaves Ecuador and heads to Bolivia. In his homilies, speeches and interventions, Bergoglio has sent out some rather clear messages.
The attention the Pope has shown towards the reform process set in motion by President Rafael Correa is obvious. Francis has clearly stated that the Church is prepared to co-operate and support efforts to help the poor, include the excluded and build a fairer society. And Ecuador still has a long way to go: significant progress has been made, the country is growing, but there is still a great deal that needs to be done. The bits of Francis’ speeches where he calls for dialogue - that is, workign together towards a better future – must not slip our attention. More dialogue is certainly needed in Ecuador, where 2% of families owns 90% of businesses and where Correa plans to introduce a form of “property tax” that has sparked strident reactions even from the middle class.
But the nudge the Pope has been giving to the local Church, urging it not to be self-referential and closed, is not to be underestimated either. He also urged it to recognise the continent’s “debt” towards the poor and to support the social reform processes that are underway in Ecuador as in other Latin American countries, in order to show that – despite certain limits –other development models are possible. Inclusive models that make it possible for movements to participate from the bottom up.
The Catholic hierarchy has sometimes been too acquiescent towards dictatorships or political and economic systems that exploit the poor in these countries. Too often, priests and bishops who have stood by the people and committed to bearing witness to the Gospel, have been branded “communists” and even their martyrdom has been regarded with suspicion (the case of the Salvadoran bishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, whom Pope Francis has recognised as a martyr, is emblematic of this). Francis’ words are therefore an invitation to a new start inspired by the Gospel, that can give the Church the ability to accompany the positive processes currently underway, without fear.