Pope Francis’ Pontificate From an Arab Perspective

Lebanese Journalist Hala Homsi Speaks to ZENIT on Benedict XVIs Resignation and Pope Francis’s Actions

Two years have passed since Benedict XVI’s renunciation and Pope Francis’ election. Two years full of novelties and unheard of stories. In this interview with ZENIT, Lebanese journalist Hala Homsi, specialist since 1995 on religious issues for the Lebanese newspaper Annahar, gives her reading of this page of the history of the Catholic Church.

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ZENIT: What are your thoughts on the historic event of Benedict XVI’s resignation two years ago?

Homsi: Pope Benedict’s resignation is more than a historic event. The Pope aroused a wind of reform in the Church, more than any reforming address, embodying unprecedented courage. With his resignation, he opened a new practice, changing a tradition that touches the position itself of the Pontiff, through a gesture that had not happened for centuries.

The least that can be said is that his choice manifested his personality: the humility of the great theologian, the courage of the thinker, the nature of the prolific writer, who preferred to rest among his books rather than continue the exhausting rhythm for him and for the Church. He acted in the line of free men. He is a free Pope.

ZENIT: Do you think the “beneficent” motivation of the resignation was well received?

Homsi: Perhaps the resignation was made for reasons of health. However, what he did wasn’t easy. His resignation put to the test the solidity of the Church, with an unusual situation: that of the presence of two “Popes” in the Vatican, with the presence of the nostalgic that still sing the praises of the outgoing Pontiff.

Another interesting aspect of Pope Benedict’s resignation is that, although it happened more than two years ago, it is far from being archived. This fact drove his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, to say on February 12, 2015, that Ratzinger’s resignation “happened without any outside pressure,” following rumors that the Pope renounced under pressure. Such suspicions are naturally raised by malevolent intentions, fruit of the discontent of some with Francis’ pontificate.  

The fact remains, however, that the resignation was made by a strong not a weak man.

ZENIT: For some Pope Francis’ pontificate is an “evangelical spring” in the Church. Do you share that opinion?

An evangelical spring? For many it is so. And from a journalistic perspective, I see that Pope Francis is inserting in the ecclesial body a great spirit of renewal.  The question that remains, however, is: How much will they let him do? Will he succeed in bringing his reforming enterprise to completion? Undoubtedly, his mission will not be altogether easy.

ZENIT: What do you think, instead, of those who accuse Pope Francis of being “a Communist”?

Homsi: It is only dispersive gossip. Perhaps if the Communists were like Pope Francis, they would have been called “evangelicals” (in reference to the Gospel!)! It is a fact that the Pope has supporters and opponents. He has enemies in the Curia, in the Church and outside of Her. His reforming style doesn’t please everyone.  The accusations addressed to him, such as that of being Communist, chaotic or “destroyer of the dignity of the papacy” are dispersive attempts that betray a recognition of the reforming battle that the Pope is carrying forward.

ZENIT: Pope Francis has given special attention to the Middle East. I recall ,by way of example, the prayer for peace in Syria, the visit to Jordan and Palestine (recognizing de facto the Palestinian State), the prayer with the Palestinian President and the Israeli President in the Vatican. How do you summarize the image mirrored in the Middle East?

Homsi: Pope Francis has great popularity in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon; he is loved by the people and his figure is omnipresent. Speaking as a Christian, his daily homilies and his many activities are much followed, especially thanks to the coverage of the Christian media, which is not slow in reporting his activities and the celebrations over which he presides.

From a Muslim point of view, he is a very respected religious leader for his word and for his positions. If the Lebanese could express a desire: their desire is that Pope Francis visit Lebanon, as Pope Benedict XVI and Saint John Paul II did. Such a visit would bear great fruit in the nation.

ZENIT: Considering the tragedy that the Middle East is living through, and not only the Middle East, what initiatives do you expect from the Holy Father?

Homsi: There is great fear in hearts for the future, because of the expansion of ISIS and its ferocity. Christians have become “projects” of martyrdom ready for execution. They have been dispersed, robbed of their homes, of their lands. Is it normal that Christians need protection in their own homelands?

The Holy Father has taken great initiatives. He continues to be the strong voice of Christians in face of the International Community. It is also important that he support Arab-speaking Christians in their lands of origin, through projects and initiatives that reinforce their presence. An example would be the promotion of the Christian media that has a great role in the diffusion of the Word, in the consolidation of Christians and in their growth. Without a doubt, it is the time to work, and there is so much work.

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