In his first extensive piece of writing as pope, Pope Francis lays out a vision of the Catholic Church dedicated to evangelisation in a positive key, with a focus on society’s poorest and most vulnerable, including the aged and the unborn.
Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), released by the Holy See on November 26, is an apostolic exhortation, one of the most authoritative categories of papal document.
Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, published in July, was mostly the work of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.
The Pope wrote the new document in response to the October 2012 Synod of Bishops on the new evangelisation, but declined to work from a draft provided by synod officials.
Pope Francis’ voice is unmistakable in the 50,000-word document’s relatively relaxed style – he writes that an “evangeliser must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral” – and its emphasis on some of his signature themes, including the dangers of economic globalisation and “spiritual worldliness”.
The Church’s message “has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary”, he writes.
“In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead.”
Inspired by Jesus’ poverty and concern for the dispossessed during his earthly ministry, Pope Francis calls for a “Church which is poor and for the poor”.
The poor “have much to teach us”, he writes.
“We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voices to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.”
Charity is more than mere handouts, “it means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor”, the Pope writes.
“This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free creative, participatory and mutually supportive labour that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives.”
Pope Francis reiterates his earlier criticisms of “ideologies that defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation”, which he blames for the current financial crisis and attributes to an “idolatry of money”.
He emphasises that the Church’s concern for the vulnerable extends to “unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us”, whose defence is “closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right”.
“A human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development,” the Pope writes, in his strongest statement to date on the subject of abortion.
“Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defence of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.”