The Francis Effect

There is a tsunami of people in Goa drawn by what can be described as the Francis Effect. Francis effect is very much visible and tangible Goa these day. The simple masses have turned to Goa from all over the world, particularly from India. Francis Effect easily rubs on every one and spiritual atmospherics has emerged all over Goa. This new atmosphere is one of welcome, understanding and compassion. We can notice how people are hungry for God and are looking for spiritual solace. Everyone experiences a God’s welcome and spiritual solidarity at the feet of St. Francis Xavier. We can also appreciate how the world is taken by storm by another Francis. Pope Francis has captured the imagination of the people across the globe.   In some way God is showing a Francis Effect across the globe and we are fortunate to live in these times of God’s grace.  Francis Effect is radiating the Gospel to everyone.  The feast of St. Francis Xavier is an intense moment of God’s grace where we feel the close presence of God to his people. We are happy to bring this intense spiritual experience, through this live presentation from old Goa. Feel the welcome of God and be blessed as you become part of this live coverage of the feast of St. Francis Xavier.  

Between the two Francis’- a Quest for a space of Harmony in Diversity 

Pope Francis has brought in fresh energy in the Catholic Church. The intensity of its radiations has reached beyond its visible boundaries. As we celebrate the exposition of St. Francis Xavier in Goa, maybe it is worthwhile to examine how these two great personalities, though living across different times and cultures somehow exhibit some interstices of congruence. Like all Christians these two great persons share a common space in their life of faith in Jesus Christ. It is this imperative of faith that generates profound and dynamic responses of the Christian community to the challenges of their vibrant context in which they find themselves.   Therefore, it seems interesting to discern attentively some spaces of congruence that intertwine the faith dynamism of St. Francis Xavier and Pope Francis while being aware that both of them certainly have equivocal, unique and different personality traits as well as context to respond . Though their times and vivacious contexts are different, without  an intention of transmuting them into  monocultural  sameness, we can make an effort to draw lines that can manifest a common space that might inspire us today. The common space is a perichoretic space, in the model of our triune God where sameness and otherness intermingle without dissolving the otherness into the sameness. The same can be envisaged of these two great human persons and a common terrain of their faith life and leadership can be drawn where their personal uniqueness and charisma admirably merge and inspire us today.  Hence, our concern is to construct a shared space of harmony in diversity in the life of this great persons and  hope that it will ignite our minds and hearts to  respond authentically  to the challenges of our times and build space that will never unhome any one in our society .

As we begin to arrive at a seeing together or synoptic vision that does not draw the curtain on the otherness of these two great persons, we are led to understand that building of such a shared space of  harmony in diversity in their respective times and societies was the goal of Francis Xavier as well as the aim of Pope Francis . As we breathe and continue to strive to render  a life livable for us and others, we can certainly discern how Pope Francis attempts  to incarnate God’s welcome, compassion and mercy to everyone, positively removing the hurdles that unhome several people in the Church and the World at large. His views and witness towards the poor, the oppressed, the gays, the divorced, Vatican Bank, the luxurious life of the leaders in the Church and crass capitalism are known to everyone. In his own way, the Pope is creating a shared space of harmony in diversity. This shared space of harmony in diversity, is built  on the foundation of humility and compassion of Jesus Christ.  In His Book, Heaven and Earth, the Pope emphatically says that in our pastoral care, ‘we do not have the right to force anything to anyone.   If God in creation ran the risk of making us free, who am I to get involved? (Judge the divorced couples, gay etc)… God left the freedom to sin in our hands.’ The profound life and message of Pope Francis cannot unhome any one and is at once an embodied presence of Gods welcome that became flesh in Jesus Christ to all, particularly the sinners. 

St. Francis Xavier, being a Basque exhibits his struggle for the construction of the shared space for the harmony in diversity in his own way. To understand his struggle, we have to abandon the comforting distance of hindsight by which we are often tempted to view him. He belongs to  an era when, humanity had not seen the rise of reason, enlightenment , science, technology, secularism, materialism and consumerism of our days. It was a time when the politics, commerce and religions crossed each other’s boundaries and hence, we need to critically purify our lens of viewing his life and action.  Certainly like every great saint , who  exhibits traces  human frailty  and divine excellence , Francis too does the same with great distinction. But the fact that  his effort became God’s welcome can be seen in his heroic life  particularly in  his shunning aside of his luxuries that came along with him being a Papal nuncio. His leadership is neither bureaucratic nor combative but one that was always alive to the context and sensitive to the vulnerable. His very absence from Goa on long missionary journeys speaks volumes about the way he reached out to the poor and oppressed particularly in south India, where he was most successful among the fisher folks. His struggles against the erring Portuguese officers, erring Church leaders, and the Brahmins, his method of evangelization from the children to the family, his dialogue with the rich and the powerful in Japan and his sheer courage and desire to take up missionary expeditions across the seas, his final unfinished journey to China powerfully manifest how he gave himself up to become God’s welcome to the newly discovered people in the East .  He became at home with people of different cultures, languages and religious persuasions and opened himself to dialogue in order to bring about a shared space where diversity can live in harmony. 

This shared space of harmony in diversity is not a neutral, flat and numbing space. It is a profoundly political space rooted in God experience and the lives of the poor and the marginalized. Indeed, both the Francis’ that we tried to understand are men for their times. St. Francis Xavier stood tall and ahead of the men of his time and become the guiding light for generations to come. Pope Francis is certainly the men for our times. Both in their different ways allow God to work through them and build the Church and humanity. Hence, they continue to inspire tens of thousands to walk in their footsteps and become God’s welcome in our families and societies. Channelling God’s  welcome to humanity afflicted with religious fanaticism, terrorism,  economic dispossession, political disenfranchisement  etc is both urgent and necessary for the very survival of humanity. We in Goa, with our openness and hospital culture have seeds of God welcome that do  not unhome anyone. Often this seed of God’s welcome are abused by the market driven tourism that has de-goanized and unhomed Goans. Hence, St, Francis and  Pope Francis are indeed great  inspiration for us to build  a perichoretic space/ space of harmony in diversity were every shade of otherness is nurtured and valued and is not unhomed or forced to be dissolved into a sameness driven by narcissism. The two great persons that we have attempted to  present challenge us to purge all traces of narrcissim in our theologies, moralities, philosophies, economies, and socio-political life. Can we become the liberating presence of God’s welcome to each one of us?   

The synod of the family and Pope Francis and  St Francis Xavier 

The synod of family that took place in Vatican on 5th to 19th October , with the focus on the them “Pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization”  promises to bring about a revolution in the Church’s attitude and ministry to the family. Like Pope Francis, Francis Xavier did put family at the centre of his evangelization, particularly in India. His missiological methodology from the children to the family indicates how family was the locus of his evangelization. Bringing Jesus to the families meant for him bringing happiness to them. Today, we have increasing number of unhappy families that are breaking apart or threatening to break apart. That is why the Synod on Family dedicated to the challenges of the family is indeed a moment of grace for the families. The divorced couples are on an increase, civilly re-married Catholic couples are growing, applications for annulment are growing day by day, co-habiting couples and those in same sex union are on the rise. The Church teaching on marriage, procreation, and family life is steadily losing its holds over the people.   Several members of the synod, was bridging back both spirit and letter of Vatican II. Through the synod, the universal Church stove to dialogue with the family as it exists today in our world with its joys and anxieties. This authentic dialogue that was responsive to the joys and anxieties of the family can be also traced in the life and work of St.  Francis Xavier. He stove to build families by evangelizing them and brought them in the church.   

Looking back on t him two weeks of family synod Pope Francis called it a ‘great experience’ and affirmed that he felt the power of the Holy Spirit, who constantly guides and renews the church. Francis Xavier was led by the Holy Spirit to reach out to the families through his ministry to the children. Observing the children in the power of the Spirit, he understood the plight of the family and was enabled to respond to the special needs of the family. The final report ( Relatio Synodi) is divided into three parts :  

  1.  Listening to the context and challenges of the families 
  2.  The Gaze of Christ, the gospel of the families 
  3. Comparison and the pastoral perspective

St. Francis Xavier made his encounter with the children the entry point  into the family, the synod and Pope Francis makes the context and the challenges that the families encounter as the entry point to the families.  He says love is the measure of faith. How much you love manifest the depth of one’s faith. 

Listening with greater sensitivity 

 The synodal bishop listened to the polyphonic voices of the families coming from  different parts of the world and came to a common understanding that ‘growing danger posed by an exaggerated individualism that distorts family ties and eventually considers every member of the family as an island, giving precedence in some cases,  to the idea of a person as absolute. (RS. 5). The synod attempted to listen to the crises that families are facing in varying degrees across the world and tried to draw a response that will be continuous in its responsive listening. Such a responsive listening was awakened in St. Francis Xavier by Ignatius of Loyola and we can trace how the ears and heart of St Francis listened to the struggles and pains of the families of his days particularly in south India. He continues this awakened and active listening even today from his resting place in Goa. Today steadily the institution of marriage has become ‘residual Choice’ as only few are getting married while others are choosing co-habitation as a way of life, especially in the west. We in India are steadily facing the tide of increasing divorce and couple living in crises or separation. Voices for gay rights and marriage are also becoming louder in our society.  Pope Francis and St. Francis Xavier are great models for us to listen with sensitivity and compassion to the pain and the struggle of our families in our societies. This will enhance the Christian heritage of mercy and can assist us to be responsive to wounded and fragile families in our days. 

The Gospel of the family 

The gospel is not just directed to individuals and societies but the families at large. Pope Francis laments that the dying families of Europe has impoverished Europe as it become exhausted and does not promise any creativity. We are living in an aging Society both in Europe and Goa. Our societies are suffering the virus of contraceptive mentality that does not welcome children. Besides this, the girl child is not welcome in Indian society from womb to the tomb. Hence, there is an urgent need of Gospel to the families. The compassionate and freeing look of Jesus can certainly spring forth new life and vigour in our families. We need to inspire the laity to live the gospel of the family. The families of Pope Francis and St. Francis are effective bearers of the gospel of families. That is, the way we can find that the Gospel is effectively lived and proclaimed by the life of their sons  manifest they were strong catholic families. Catholic families has the vocation to be the gospel to the world. They need to embody the compassionate look of Jesus to the broken families as well as those who do not accept the very institution o family. There is great room for Christian families to become prophetic evangelizers of families in the world. St. Francis continues the mission of Jesus by inspiring the imagination of many even today. The life and work of Pope Francis continues to incarnate the presence of Jesus among us. Hence, we need to draw inspiration from these stalwarts and live the Gospel of the families to the fullest with profound love and joy and witness to the world that marriage is  a beautiful and fascinating way of life. 

Pastoral responses         

The Church continues to be concerned about the families across all religious persuasions.  She firmly believes that marriage and families are instituted by God , the creator.   She cares for the families that are  separated, divorced, not married , single parent families, and persons with homosexual orientation. The synod and the Pope has called the church to avoid any language and attitude of discrimination and even harassment. Everyone is to  be accepted with     respect, sensitivity and compassion. We in India and Goa require to be sensitive to the social evils like alcoholism, dowry system, caste discrimination , extra marital and pre-marital sex, photography, domestic violence  and lead the Catholics to grow and flowers as a domestic Church.  St. Francis Xavier’s prophetic struggles against the erring Portuguese officers and the Priests and the religious as well as the casteists Brahmins stand tall as an example of his compassion for the oppressed and the excluded. Hence, we are to draw profound inspiration from both St. Francis and Pope Francis and so that a catholic family becomes an effective vehicle of the gospel of the families today.

We can certainly notice how in complex situations Pope Francis and St. Francis Xavier continue to inspire us to make family the centre of our life. Family life is indeed, the most beautiful way of living a fulfilled human life. We need our family and our families need us. The very survival of humanity is dependent on the institution of family. Hence, it is important for the sake of humanity that we protect and nurture our families. May God bless all families!  

Family is home and school of deeper Humanity 

All families have the vocation or call to be communities of love and life. Pope St. John Paul II in his post synodal exhortation, Familiaris Consortia, presents four missions of a family: (1) Build a communion of person , ( 2) to serve life (3) to serve the society and (4) to serve the Church.   It is through these fourfold missions that a catholic family becomes an evangelizing community. The evangelizing mission of the family begins with self –evangelization. This self-evangelization makes the family the home and school of deeper humanity.  Pope St. John Paul  II further teaches empathically the above when he says “all members  of the family each according to his or her own gift, have the grace and responsibility of building day by day the communion of persons making the family a school of deeper humanity.” FC. No., 21.  Gadium et Spes no. 52 ,  of the pastoral constitution of the Church clearly teaches that family is a school for human enrichment. Growth of the human person to its full potentials requires the nursery of the family. Hence, parents are the primary educators and our first teachers. 

Pope Francis and St. Francis Xavier are great enablers. They enable everyone to bring out the best in them.  Their every presence is an enabling presence in different ways, particularly the parents in the family providing inspiration to draw the best form their children. Educare is essentially about drawing out the best from the students; hence, parents are challenged to become enablers who are to lead the children to discover themselves and their talents. Self discovery in the family is profoundly enabling as it can provide the environment to grow in the talents and actualize the potentials of the children.   Both Pope Francis and St. Francis challenge parents and the leaders in our society to work to transform our families into enabling temples that build the life of each member.   This will equip every member of the family to face proactively the disabling forces in our society. Thus, the family becomes the first school of human life. Family is the space where noble values of peace, love, service, justice and forgiveness are learnt and lived. It is in the context of a vibrant family life we steadily understand what it means to be a family.

In some way every person carries his and her family within himself or herself. We are in many ways what are families are.  Our families have a great role in shaping and moulding that person that we are and wish to become. The families of Pope Francis and St. Francis have in many ways have shaped their character and person.  It is their families that nursed their faith, and taught them to be committed to their faith and love and serve everyone. In the strength of their family upbringing, they could swim against the tide and stand up for their faith in Christ and his Church. They both in their different contexts across time and space enable us to ‘see’ salvation. Somehow they brought several people and continue to bring most to the saving gaze of our Lord Jesus Christ.   The saving gaze of Jesus Christ is profoundly liberating. St. Francis Xavier as well as the Pope Francis embody this saving gaze of our Lord and become God’s welcome to us even in our days.  

Family hands on life, faith, culture and tradition to the next generation. It becomes as well as functions as an intergenerational bridge.  We are both shaped  by our culture and tradition and shape it. In this project family becomes an important nodal point. All our families stand in our cultures and traditions and through the family we stand into our culture, faith and tradition. Thus, the family hands over the baton of our faith. Within this handing over the baton of faith, Pope Francis and St. Francis become a great inspiration for every family to become nodal points and bridges as they enable their members to step into the future.  This family life is not a tabula rasa. This means family becomes the mediating ground for the happening of tradition. Indeed, our families define our being-in-the-world. Family become bearer of the tradition that gives us push to pursue new horizons and create ourselves. But no family exists in isolation and insulated from the dynamically changing context. It is very much shaped and influenced by the socio-political and cultural conditions around it. Hence, family needs guidance and pastoral care. That is why the church leaves no stone unturned to provide pastoral care to the married couples and their families. Pope Francis has shown great pastoral passion for couples and families and like St. Francis Xavier has brought the gospel to the families in a powerful way.

For Catholics family is a school of faith. It is a space that assists every member to come  and grow in their faith. Our parents are the first catechists who foster God experience and nurture and nourish our faith. It is in the family that we discover the joy of being a Christian. Hence, the family has the important mission of being the domestic Church. Since we live and experience the Joy of gospel in the family, the church has always given pivotal importance for the evangelization of families. Pope Francis and St. Francis both exhibit this primacy of family in their ministry. They make the family the prime location of their pastoral care and invite all to allow God to take control and mould their family in the power of the word of God, sacraments and the teachings of the Church.  The universal call to holiness essentially begins in the family. Family is indeed a Divine call for a blessed life. The sacramentality of Marriage  is bound to the family and cannot be lived outside its context. 

Witnessing the Gospel of the Family 

The numerous challenges faced by humanity today have their impact on family in a very profound manner. As the Catholics, we believe that the Lord comes into the lives of the married couple through the sacrament of matrimony and stays with them to form the family.  Hence, in order to face the challenges faced by the families, a catholic family has the imperative of faith to fix its gaze on Jesus and discover new ways of responding to the signs of our times. Indeed, the crisis faced by the families across the globe are signs of the times for the catholic families to become yeast , salt and light to the wonderful life of togetherness that humanity can experience through the life of married love of the male and the female. Today as this bond of love and union is steadily breaking off and humanity seems to be no longer having it’s  faith in the stability of the union of husband and wife in a martial covenant. The secularisation of our society has brought in an absence of God in the consciousness of humanity and growing materialism and consumerism has brought in egoism and ‘use and throws’ instant culture of gratification. All these have affected family life and we can no longer find families as the temples of love, live and communion in our societies.  

The catholic family has the challenge to respond creatively and responsibly to this signs of the times. The synod of family exhorts the catholic family to actualize the gospel in its daily life and thus become the Gospel of the family to humanity. Becoming the Gospel of the family means to become Good news to all humanity by communicating the beauty and splendour of family and married life. It is through its life and witness that a catholic family has to alphabetize that the married life of man and woman is the wonderful way of living human life. In order to become the gospel or good news to humanity, the catholic family has to be rooted profoundly in its faith and discern the space and role of Family in God’s salvific plan and attempt to builds its family life on the Bible, the Word of God, the grace  of Sacraments, especially the holy Eucharist, and the constant teachings of the church on marriage and family.   This will assist them to live the fidelity of marriage vows and become witness to the indissolubility of marriage and the joy of life of togetherness. Since evangelizing is the shared responsibility of God’s people, the catholic family has a great role in evangelizing the humanity concerning the human life. Life, leadership and Charisma of Pope Francis and St. Francis Xavier can motivate and provide direction to every catholic family to become effective bearers of the Gospel of the family    

The catholic family through its life of togetherness can become dynamic messenger of full-filled and happy married life to humanity. The spirituality of communion thought by Pope St. John Paul II, in Novo  Millennio Ineunte as we entered the twentieth century can become a great way of  witnessing to the life of love and communion. This dialogical life of love is based on the selfless love of self-giving modelled by our Lord and Savoir Jesus Christ. Every family when based on the spirituality of selfless self-giving can become a dialogical space to experience the presence of God and human life of togetherness and thus bring about happy families in the Church.  Happy families are great vehicles of the good news to humanity that family life is certainly the most wonderful way of living our human life. 

With this challenge of spreading the joy of being families, the catholic families have the challenge to live the gospel of live and proclaim it to humanity with the same joy and passion. We can discern a growing contraceptive mentality that does not welcome Children all around us. St. Francis Xavier who loved the children like our Lord Jesus Christ and Pope Francis are great witnesses of the Gospel of life that Jesus brought to us. The declining birth rate , the medically assisted reproductive technologies , issues o f sexual ethics and bioethics , caste divide , dowry system and disempowering of women among other things have become the challenge to the gospel of life.  We are living in an aging society particularly in Goa and across the western world. Thankfully our country with its population crises is still young in a largely aging world and many scholars are claiming that India will reap the benefits of demographic dividends in the near future. Yet catholic families in India have a great mission to proclaim the gospel of Life and live it with great Joy.  The culture of life radiating from the catholic families will certainly dispel the culture o f death and destruction that is emanating and spreading in our societies. The dignity of the girl child and the violence against the women in our society needs to be addressed.  The catholic family and the Church in India has the great mission to bring the liberative good news of life to our girl child and to the women in our society. 

Special attention to the broken families and pastoral care of persons with homosexual orientation is the need of the hour. Pope Francis has called the Church to be patient and merciful and thus incarnate or bring to flesh the compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Church. He has invited us to be non-judgemental and sensitive in the use of our langue so as not to condemn, the persons in these situations.  Families can become healing bridges to the broken families. Seeking their guidance from God in deep prayer and the Church, the catholic families are to reach out to broken families and heal their wounds and bring them to fuller married life once again. Persons with other sexual orientations are very much part of our families, Pope Francis challenges all of us not to un-home them in the Church as well as in our the families. We are invited to be compassionate and understanding and become like God who took the risk of granting us the freedom to sin. We are to patiently dialogue and pray with the persons afflicted by homosexual orientation and bring about healing and integration of their sexuality in merciful manner. The Church in no way accepts homosexual unions and teaches emphatically that they are not in accordance to God’s plan but invites us to be sensitive to their plight and condition . 

Responsible parenthood is another important area of being witnesses to the gospel of the family. Children are God’s gift for us and their upbringing in the complex cultural reality shaped by media and technology of today is indeed a great concern of the Church. Hence, family being a space of upbringing, it becomes an important task to transform families into nurseries of human values of love, understanding, peace and forgiveness The growing  nuclearisation of the families, this task of humanization and socialization of the children is often outsourced to  mass media and social media today. There is a great danger that our children may imbibe wrong values and even may be brain washed though the medium of social media as it happened with the rise of ISIS in the Middle East and the consequent radicalization of the Muslim youth across the world. Hence, the parents have the great responsibility to accompany the children as they engage with the larger society and particularly use technological gadgets of every kind. The catholic family is exhorted to provide leadership to the humanity by becoming role models of responsible parents. Thus, becoming the gospel of the family to humanity they will become is powerful evangelizers like St. Francis Xavier. 

The feast of St. Francis Xavier is an intense moment of grace for all Goans and devotees of Francis Xaviers across all religious persuasions to seek to renew their life and family. Pope Francis and St. Francis have become living embodiments of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Let us hear the call of St. Francis to deepen our relationships in our family, build love, understanding, communion, peace and forgiveness. Yes we need happy families in Goa and our country and we can build them. This is the profound message St. Francis Xavier for us today 

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao