TO PROTECT the Church is to serve with love.

In his inauguration last March 19, which was also the solemnity of St. Joseph, patron saint of the Universal Church, Pope Francis explained the importance of service in the life of a pope in his homily at the St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel reading in which an angel appeared in Joseph’s dream and told him that it was through the Holy Spirit that the Virgin Mary became pregnant. Joseph was entrusted with a mission: to be the protector of the Holy Family and the Church.

“Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model,” said Pope Francis, quoting Blessed John Paul II.

The Supreme Pontiff said the foster father of the Messiah was also a protector because Joseph was receptive and attentive to God’s plan, and was sensitive to the people in his stead.

“The vocation of being a ‘protector,’ however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone.”

People must not be afraid to show goodness and tenderness, like St. Joseph, for it is not a sign of weakness, but an indication of “strength of spirit and a capacity for concern,” the Pope said.

“To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves—this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly.”

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True to his chosen name, the Pope urged the world to protect creation and respect the environment as St. Francis Assisi had advocated. Pope Francis also reminded the faithful to protect every human being, especially the children, elderly, the neglected, and those in need.

“I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world,” he said.

When Pope Francis was still a cardinal, he was known for voicing out his opposition to anti-life measures adopted by the government of Argentina.

According to an online report of LifeSiteNews.com last March 13, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio called same-sex marriage measure an “attempt to confuse and trick God’s children.”

As a cardinal, Pope Francis also criticized the free distribution of contraceptives in public hospitals and mandatory sex education.

A Church that is poor and for the poor

In his address to the communications media last March 16, Pope Francis acknowledged mass media’s role in disseminating information on contemporary events including his election as pope.

“I am particularly grateful to those who viewed and presented these events of the Church’s history in a way which was sensitive to the right context in which they need to be read, namely, that of faith,” Pope Francis said.

While the Church is a human and historical institution, the Pope reminded journalists that its nature is not political but spiritual, in which the people of God journey to Jesus.

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“From this perspective, [you] can give a satisfactory account of the Church’s life and activity. Christ remains the center, not the Successor of Peter. As Benedict XVI frequently reminded us, Christ is present in Church and guides her. In everything that has occurred, the principal agent has been, in the final analysis, the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis said.

The new pontiff also revealed how he decided to take “Francis” as his papal name: as he acquired two-thirds of votes during the conclave, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, archbishop emeritus of São Paolo and prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, hugged him and said, “Don’t forget the poor.”

“That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we?” Pope Francis said. “He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man…How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor.”

Continuing ecumenical dialogue and Year of Faith

The new shepherd of 1.2 billion Catholics also met with other religious leaders including the delegates of the Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and Ecclesial Communities of the West in the Clementine Hall of St. Peter’s Basilica last March 20.

Pope Francis extended his friendship to the churches and Christian communities present in the gathering and also asked them to offer a special prayer for him to be a “pastor according to the heart of Christ.”

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“The Catholic Church is aware of the importance of the promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions,” he said. “We know how much violence has been provoked in recent history by the attempt to eliminate God and the divine from the horizon of humanity, and we feel the need to witness in our societies the original openness to transcendence that is inherent in the human heart.”

The Pope also expressed his prayers for the unity of all believers in Jesus Christ and respect between people belonging to different religious traditions.

“For my part, I wish to assure, in the wake of my predecessors, the firm wish to continue on the path of ecumenical dialogue,” he said. “I begin my Apostolic Ministry in this year during which my venerable predecessor, Benedict XVI, with true inspiration, proclaimed the Year of Faith for the Catholic Church. With this initiative, that I wish to continue and which I hope will be an inspiration for every one’s journey of faith.”

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