“They say that France is the eldest daughter of the Church, but she is a very unfaithful daughter!” François made this joke in 2015. Would Jorge Mario Bergoglio feel resentment against France? If he went to Strasbourg in 2014, it was in front of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. If he goes to Marseille, it’s for a meeting on the Mediterranean. This pope who likes to go to the outskirts insisted in an interview: “I will not go to any country in Europe before having finished the little ones.” He had once mentioned a pastoral visit, but has since announced that he will no longer travel.
The choice of Marseille is not surprising. This port open to the world acutely raises the questions of coexistence and fraternity that the Pope places among his priorities. While John Paul II has set foot on our soil eight times, Francis, who nevertheless maintains fairly warm relations with Emmanuel Macron (they speak informally), seems to be wary of French turbulence. For this Jesuit who likes to be obeyed, the Church of France proves difficult to manage, too full of contradictions.
Perhaps Francis feels misunderstood by a society (and a Church) that likes to classify clerics between progressives and conservatives. Some of the clergy take him for an anti-Benedict XVI. Was he cooled by the avalanche of bioethics bills, irritated by some virulent criticism, particularly regarding his somewhat cold and doubtful reception of the Sauvé report on sexual abuse?
Other emergencies than Europe
There is a clear loss of influence of France and French in the Vatican. The glorious days of cardinals Jean-Louis Tauran and Roger Etchegaray seem far away. However, Francis denies any rejection of France. Fascinated by the contribution of his theologians to the Second Vatican Council – from Congar to De Lubac – he worshiped Thérèse of Lisieux, whose missionary message he praised and whose missionary message he sometimes took with him in his luggage. Story of a soul. He venerates one of Ignatius of Loyola’s companions, the Savoyard Jesuit saint Pierre Favre, and canonized Charles de Foucauld. He published the apostolic letter Sublimity and miseria hominis, vibrant tribute to Blaise Pascal, philosopher who knew how to combine faith and reason. And, during one of his first statements after his election, in March 2013, he cited this other Auvergne that was Joseph Malègue, very witty author of the novel Augustin or the master is there.
Argentinian, son of Italian immigrants, having lived in Germany, Francis knows the Christian heritage of Europe, but appears less “Europeo-centric” than Benedict XVI. For him, the Church has other lesser-known centers that can bring renewal. He has other emergencies, seems irritated by Churches that are too elitist, by a gentrified Europe doubting itself, which did not want Christian roots in its Constitution, by democracies which sell too many weapons and do not carry the message of peace that, according to him, two thousand years of Christianity should teach them.