Sunday, March 17, 2013


Hippolyte Lazerges (1817-1887)
Sa Majesté l'empereur distribuant des secours aux inondés de Lyon. (2 juin 1856)
Oil on canvas
301 x 205 cm
Musée national du Château de Compiègne (Compiègne)

In the nineteenth century, France was beset by many natural disasters especially flooding

The great rivers of the country, the Seine, the Loire and the Rhône frequently burst their banks leaving the surrounding countryside, towns and cities in devastation

In June 1856, there were great floods in the Loire and the Rhône areas

The result again was Death, injury, and huge devastation and dislocation

The Emperor Napoléon III had to take charge and more importantly be seen to take charge

As a result of previous flooding, the mood among the populace was dire. An insurrection had to be  crushed

Political necessity required strong measures. The emperor ensured a large sum was voted to ensure relief for the poor and the destitute. 

The work records one such visit to the scene of part of one disaster area. The destruction and destitution are evident. 

The work is political propaganda. There is a religious feel to the composition. The aim of Napoleon`s policy was to calm the resentment of the population by amongst other things showing the emperor as energetic, generous and humane in the relief of poverty and suffering

He was of course no Saint Francis of Assisi

Father Ray Blake in his article "Poverty: What is it ?"  makes a number of important points about the new pontificate of Pope Francis . He writes:
""Don't forget the poor!" And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi." 
This is how the Pope described the choice of his name, he has spoken of "a poorer Church for the poor" but, maybe I am a bit stupid, I am not sure what "poor" means"

The present Pope has of course been studying and practising poverty for years

His words are not to be disregarded lightly

The emphasis on voluntary poverty by St Francis was as the first step toward spiritual regeneration 

However in  St Francis`s day (and before and since), poverty was often seen as a sign of moral degradation

The eventual rule of St Francis contained in the Bull "Solet annuere," began:
"The rule and life of the Minor Brothers is this, namely, to observe the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without property and in chastity." 
St. Francis also promised obedience to Pope Honorius and his successors, the other brothers were to obey Brother Francis and his successors 

In 2001 Pope Francis attended as deputy relator at the Synod of Bishops in Rome. The theme of the Synod was Episcopus minister Evangelii Iesu Christi propter spem mundi (The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Hope of the World)

Its proceedings were interrupted by September 11 and its aftermath. It therefore did not receive as much publicity as it should

One major topic of debate was the role of poverty in the spirit and practice of Bishops

One can trace the development of some of the debate at the Vatican website

"Attention to New Social Problems and the New Forms of Poverty
139.A special moment in proclaiming hope is concern for the poor in our society, where no one ought to forget that the person–as recalled by the Second Vatican Council–is the source, center and purpose of economic and social life. 
Part of the Church’s concern is that development might not be understood exclusively in an economic sense but rather in one which considers every aspect of the human person. 
Christian hope is directed towards the heavenly Kingdom and eternal life. However, this eschatological goal does not lessen the commitment to the advancement of the earthly city. On the contrary, it gives it meaning and incentive. 
Indeed “buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and lead to the happiness that flows from charity.” Earthly progress and the growth of the Kingdom are not separate entities, because the vocation of humanity to eternal life, instead of relieving the person from expending his God-given energies for the development of his life in this world, makes it all the more imperative. 
140.It is not the specific task of the Church to offer solutions to economic and social questions. However, her teachings contain general principles which are indispensable for the construction of a just social and economic order. Even in this matter, the Church must proclaim the Gospel. Each Bishop in his particular Church has to become the Herald of the Gospel, indicating that the core of its message can be found in the Beatitudes. 
Finally, since the commandment of love of neighbour has concrete implications, the Bishop needs to promote appropriate initiatives in his diocese and to exhort the people to overcome possible attitudes of apathy, passivity and egoism, whether in individuals or entire groups. 
Equally important for the Bishop is to awaken through his preaching the Christian conscience of every citizen, exhorting each one to work in an active solidarity and with the means available to defend all persons from whatever abuses might assail their human dignity. 
In this regard, he has continually to remind the faithful that Christ is present in every poor and needy person (cf. Mt 25:31-46). The image of the Lord as the one who is to come as Judge at the end of time is the promise of definitive justice for the living and the dead and for all people of all times and places"

As Assistant General Relator Pope Francis (then Archbishop of Buenos Aires) read out the Bishops` Report on the discussions. It would seem he who had a large part to play in drafting the Report. 

The section on Poverty was largely re-drafted:
"Poor for the Kingdom 
12. One of the characteristics most mentioned by the Synodal Fathers in relationship with the holiness of the Bishop is his poverty. Man of poor heart, is the image of the poor Christ, imitating the poor Christ, being poor with a profound vision. His simplicity and austerity of life confer total freedom in God.  
The Holy Father invited us to examine "our attitude towards earthly goods and about the use of them... to verify to what point in the Church the personal and community conversion has achieved effective evangelical poverty... to be poor at the service of the Gospel"  
With these last expressions, John Paul II reminds us that this means following the evangelical radicalism for whom blessed is who becomes poor for the Kingdom, following the sequela of Jesus-Poor, to live in communion with brothers according to the model of the apostolic vivendi forma, witnessed in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles."

Thereafter one of the main topics of discussion on the Report for the Working Groups of Bishops was:
"9. What concrete choices should be made for the Bishop, before his Particular Church and within it, to witness authentic poverty? How may he realize the authentic image of a poor Bishop free of any ties for the Kingdom? A difficulty which must be overcome for this finality and which impede the practice of the evangelical Beatitude of poverty. How may he be the defender of the widow, of the orphan and of the foreigner in today’s meaning of these terms?"

After discussion, a Message was framed  and this Message of the Bishops from the Synod had this to say about poverty:
"Struggling against poverty in poverty of spirit 
15. Just as we must struggle to free those oppressed by a poverty which is destructive, so there can be a kind of poverty which frees our energies for love and service. This is the gospel poverty which we want to practise. 
We should be poor before the Father, like Jesus in his prayer, his teaching and his deeds. We should be poor with Mary, remembering God’s mighty works. We should be poor in the face of our brothers and sisters, marked by a style of life which draws people to Jesus the Lord. 
The bishop is the father and the brother of the poor. 
When it is necessary, he should not hesitate to raise his voice for those who have no voice, so that their rights will be recognised and respected. In particular, he "must do everything he can so that in every Christian community, the poor feel ‘at home’" (Novo millennio ineunte, 50). 
It is only then, as we face the world filled with missionary dynamism, that we can speak credibly of the joy of the humble and pure of heart, the power of forgiveness and the hope that those who hunger and thirst for justice will finally be satisfied by God."

In 2003, Blessed Pope John Paul II published his response to the Synod`s conclusions in his Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis

He devoted a large section to the spirit and practice of poverty in Bishops:

"20. The Synod Fathers, as a sign of collegial unity, responded to the appeal which I made at the opening Mass of the Synod that the evangelical Beatitude of poverty should be considered an indispensable condition for a fruitful episcopal ministry in present-day circumstances. 
Here too, amid the assembly of Bishops there stood out the figure of Christ the Lord, ''who carried out the work of redemption in poverty and under oppression'', and who invites the Church, and above all her pastors, ''to follow the same path in communicating to humanity the fruits of salvation''. 
Consequently, the Bishop who wishes to be an authentic witness and minister of the Gospel of hope must be a vir pauper. This is demanded by the witness he is called to bear to Christ, who was himself poor. 
It is also demanded by the Church's concern for the poor, who must be the object of a preferential option. The Bishop's decision to carry out his ministry in poverty contributes decisively to making the Church the ''home of the poor''. 
This decision also provides the Bishop with inner freedom in the exercise of his ministry and enables him to communicate effectively the fruits of salvation. 
Episcopal authority must be exercised with untiring generosity and inexhaustible liberality. On the Bishop's part, this calls for complete trust in the providence of the heavenly Father, an open-hearted communion of goods, an austere way of life and continuous personal conversion. 
Only in this way will he be able to share in the struggles and sufferings of the People of God, whom he is called not only to lead and nourish but with whom he must show fraternal solidarity, sharing their problems and helping to build their hope. 
He will carry out this service effectively if his own life is simple, sober and at the same time active and generous, and if it places those considered least important in our society not on the fringes but rather at the centre of the Christian community. 
Almost without realizing it, he will foster a ''creativity in charity'' which will bear fruit not simply in the efficiency of the assistance offered but also in an ability to live in a spirit of fraternal sharing. 
In the Church of the Apostles, as the Book of Acts clearly witnesses, the poverty of some members of the community called forth the solidarity of others, with the amazing result that ''there was not a needy person among them'' (4:34). 
The Church needs to bear witness to this prophecy before a world assailed by the problems of hunger and inequality between peoples. 
In this perspective of sharing and of simplicity of life, the Bishop will administer the goods of the Church like the ''good head of a household'', and be careful to ensure that they are used for the Church's own specific ends: the worship of God, the support of her ministers, the works of the apostolate and initiatives of charity towards the poor. 
The title procurator pauperum has always been applied to the Church's pastors. 
This must also be the case today, so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can become present and be heard as a source of hope for all, but especially for those who can expect from God alone a more dignified life and a better future. 
Encouraged by the example of their pastors, the Church and the Churches must practise that ''preferential option for the poor'' which I have indicated as programmatic for the third millennium"

It would therefore seem that the model of the Bishop which Pope Francis is extolling is  the poor Shepherd and not that of a Napoleon. A position totally in line with Blessed Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI

In any event the Emperor did not hang onto his throne for that long. He was forced to abdicate in 1870 after Germany totally defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War


  1. You have done a wonderful work here. Thank you. I hope others will read this soon. I haven't taken the time to research or quote properly as you do, but this post hhelps to document and demonstrate the direction the Holy Spirit has led the Church during the last two pontificates into the new reign of Pope Francis. Our Holy Father is saying and doing nothing new or out of character.