A servant leader: From the moment Pope Francis was introduced to the world, he demonstrated to Catholics that he is a servant of the faithful. Breaking from tradition, before imparting his blessing to those gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis asked that the people of God pray for him. “Before the bishop blesses his people, he asks that you pray to the Lord to bless me, the prayer of the people for the blessing of their bishop,” he said.
It was a simple gesture that spoke volumes. While Pope Francis is supreme pontiff and has authority to issue decrees impacting the lives of every Catholic, his formation as a Jesuit has taught him to value the insights of others through consultation and that authority is all about service. It’s part of a process called servant leadership.
According to Jesuit Fr. William J. Bryon, president of The Catholic University of America from 1982 to 1992 and author of “Next Generation Leadership,” servant leadership is a philosophy incorporated into the constitutions of the Society of Jesus by its founder, Ignatius of Loyola.
“The lesson here for the rest of us is that every leader should have someone who is willing and able to tell him or her in confidence and with absolute freedom the unvarnished truth,” Fr. Bryon said in a 2010 interview with National Catholic Reporter.
So servant leadership is in Pope Francis’ DNA.
In his homily March 19, Pope Francis explained his understanding of power as service.
“Let us never forget that authentic power is service and that the pope, too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the cross,” he said.
Love for the poor: During his 15 years as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis made outreach to people on the fringes of society a priority for himself and his priests. “The villas (more than 500 shanties that surround the Argentine capitol) were such a priority for Pope Francis that he established chapels and missions, providing education, serving hot meals and organizing youth groups and drug rehabilitation programs,” reported Catholic News Service.
Like St. Francis of Assisi, his example of loving and caring for the poor — and a desire to embrace poverty through simple living — is more meaningful than any pastoral letter or homily that has been written or preached on our obligation to the least among us.
Respect for other believers: Within hours of his election on March 13, Pope Francis sent a message to Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo di Segni. In it, the pope said he hoped to “contribute to the progress that Jewish-Catholic relations have seen starting from the Second Vatican Council, in a spirit of renewed collaboration.” The new pope’s spirit of interreligious cooperation was instrumental in Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, choosing to attend the papal installation March 19. He was the first patriarch of Constantinople to attend a papal installation since the Great Schism of 1054 that separated Christianity between the East and West.
But it was a brief message to journalists at the conclusion of his audience with them March 17 that truly summed up Pope Francis’ respect for other believers.
“I know that many of you are not Catholic or are not believers, so I impart my heartfelt blessing to each of you silently, respecting your consciences, but knowing that each of you is a child of God. May God bless you,” Pope Francis told them.
Modern evangelist: Pope Francis is now the face of the new evangelization, the Catholic Church’s desire to reintroduce the Gospels to the modern world. While the latest opinion polls show that Pope Francis commands a high approval rating (88 percent among Catholics), Pope Francis knows popularity polls won’t win souls.
That is why he has entrusted the new evangelization to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pope Francis’ deep Ignatian spirituality is a gift to his pontificate.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., a guiding force on the new evangelization, said Pope Francis’ style reflects the church’s focus on new evangelization.
“His invitation is not just by words but by personal witness,” said Cardinal Wuerl.
Truly, qualities that all of us can emulate.