On Christmas morning that is clear and cold, and confronting an overflowing folder marked “Porta Fidei” with the animus of throwing it all out – the Year of Faith having terminated – my eyes fall on the second paragraph of Benedict XVI’s motu proprio which reads: “Ever since the start of my ministry as Successor of Peter, I have spoken of the need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ.” And I immediately think of pope Francis on November 6 last and his heading straight for Vinicio Riva, 53, from Vincenza, Italy, who suffers from a startlingly disfiguring (and repugnant) neurofibromatosis. “He didn't have any fear of my illness. He embraced me without speaking. I quivered. I felt a great warmth… I felt like I was in paradise.” Francis had no idea if his wounds were contagious. Robert Moynihan of “Inside the Vatican” wrote: “People are usually afraid to come close to the hundreds of boils that cover Riva’s body, fearing that his very presence could make them sick. He thought the Pope would speak to his aunt, who was with him and that he would only get a cursory glance. But instead, Francis headed straight towards Riva, wrapped his arms around the man’s head and pulled him in for a tight embrace. It was like nothing Riva had ever experienced before.”
In that second paragraph, Benedict quotes himself from the homily of his inauguration Mass in 2005: “The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.” And he continues in Porta Fidei: “It often happens that Christians are more concerned for the social, cultural and political consequences of their commitment, continuing to think of the faith as a self-evident presupposition for life in society. In reality, not only can this presupposition no longer be taken for granted, but it is often openly denied.”
And the event of Benedict’s resigning from the papacy at the midpoint of the Year and the election of Bergoglio as Francis impresses the action of God on me. Bergoglio's pre-conclave call to renounce the “self-referential” and to go “to the peripheries” becomes iconically impressed on the imagination. And as someone remarked to me last week: It doesn’t matter what the media say. What is important are the pictures: the New Evangelization has no words, and should not have them. The New Evangelization is Francis heading straight for Riva.