16 February 2017, The Tablet

Understanding Francis

by Cardinal Vincent Nichols


Two words are at the heart of the Pope’s drive to reform the Church: accompaniment and discernment. And they are key to understanding the document at the centre of increasingly heated debate, Amoris Laetitia

Pope Francis has made it clear what he wants to achieve in and for the Church. In his apostolic letter, Misericordia et Misera, issued at the end of the Year of Mercy last November, he speaks of “a perennial activity of pastoral conversion and witness to mercy”. He speaks of generating a “culture of mercy” in the Church. This, it seems to me, is Francis’ real programme.

As I was reading this letter for the first time, I was also listening to a young man who was talking with a group of bishops as we were engaged in preparations for next year’s Synod of Bishops, which will be on “Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment”. When he was asked what young people feared most today, he replied with one word, “failure”. Reflecting on the Church’s teaching, especially on sexuality, he said: “It has no room for failure. It is impossible for us to work with.”

This phrase, “the culture of mercy”, and the words of this young man hold the key to understanding the entire reform that Pope Francis is trying to bring about. It is important to understand this, as it is related directly to Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), the apostolic exhortation from the Synod of Bishops on the Family.

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