Church as ‘field hospital’: Pope Francis encourages Church to heal wounds, proclaim God’s love Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Thursday, Sep. 26, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

People everywhere are talking about the interview with Pope Francis published in the Italian Jesuit journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, and reprinted in other Jesuit publications.

Rather than relying on media reports about the article, I printed a copy of the article from America magazine and read it myself. It is a wonderful article and gave me much more insight into Pope Francis — not only as our Holy Father, but as a person.

Pope’s humility and the need for God’s mercy

What struck me most was his humility. Here he is, the worldwide leader of the  Catholic Church, the successor of St. Peter. Yet at the beginning of the article, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., who conducted the interview, asks Pope Francis, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” His answer is, “I am a sinner.”

The pope goes on to say, “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” Pope Francis then talks about his motto, Miserando atque Eligendo (By Having Mercy and By Choosing Him). This motto refers to the Gospel story when Jesus called St. Matthew, a tax collector, to follow him.

Pope Francis recognizes his own need for God’s mercy. That’s perhaps why he is able to empathize with people who also need God’s mercy and forgiveness.

The Church as ‘field hospital’

One section of the article is called “The Church as Field Hospital.” Pope Francis says what the Church needs most today “is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful.”

That’s why he compares the Church to a “field hospital after battle.” He says it is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. “You  have to heal his wounds,” he insists. “Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds . . . And you have to start from the ground up.”

Pope Francis laments the fact that the Church “has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.” Instead, he insisted, “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”

And he adds that the ministers of the Church “must be ministers of mercy above all.” In pastoral ministry, “we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds,” he said.

Change attitudes first

Pope Francis says that the Church’s ministers should accompany people like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans, and raises up his neighbor. “This is pure Gospel,” he said. “The structural and organizational reforms are secondary — that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude.  The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descent themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost.”

Rather than just keeping church doors open, Pope Francis encourages the Church’s ministers and members to seek out the lost and alienated. “We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” he said, “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound.”

Proclaim the saving love of God

Pope Francis said that the first message should be proclaiming the “saving love of God.” That comes before “moral and religious imperatives.”

While the secular press quoted his mentioning that issues of abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods shouldn’t be talked about “all the time,” that doesn’t mean that Pope Francis wants to change any Church teachings. He said we have to “find a new balance” and avoid ‘losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

In his first six months as our Holy Father, Pope Francis has demonstrated that he practices what he preaches. He has shown us an example of simplicity, humility, and warmth.  He has visited prisoners, comforted the sick, and reached out to hug the poor and the disabled.

I hope he continues to inspire people throughout the world — including members of his own Catholic Church — to open their hearts to God and other people with love, mercy, and forgiveness. Wouldn’t the world be a better place with more people like Pope Francis?