Attention to the Poor among Underpinnings of Pope Francis’ Pontificate: Ugandan Theologian

A poster announcing the Wednesday, March 29 event that Uganda’s Catholic Archdiocese of Kampala organized to celebrate Pope Francis’ decade of service at the helm of the Catholic Church. Credit: UEC

Attentiveness to the poor and marginalized in society and the mercy of God are among the seven aspects that underpin the 10-year Pontificate of Pope Francis, a Ugandan-born Catholic Theologian has said. 

Speaking during the Wednesday, March 29 event that Uganda’s Catholic Archdiocese of Kampala organized to celebrate Pope Francis’ decade of service at the helm of the Catholic Church, Fr. Emmanuel Katongole highlighted the joy of the gospel as another element that defines the Pontificate of the 86-year-old native of Argentina. 

“I have identified at least seven interrelated aspects to understand Pope Francis’ 10 years of the Pontificate. I will briefly paint his picture using these aspects,” Fr. Katongole said, adding that the underpinnings of the Holy Father are drawn from his homilies, Encyclical Letters, and statements since his election on 13 March 2013.

The professor of Theology and Peace Studies at the U.S.-based University of Notre Dame, Indiana, said that Pope Francis’ strong inclination to God’s mercy has been the foundation of his Pontificate.

“This is how Pope Francis understands the whole of his ministry, as a Priest, an instrument of God’s mercy,” Fr. Katongole said in reference to the aspect of God who forgives.


He recalled the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, which Pope Francis announced in the 11 April 2015 Papal Bull, Misericordiae Vultus, emphasizing the value of mercy and the need to focus on it.

The Catholic Priest who has research interests in politics and violence in Sub-Saharan Africa, political theology, global Catholicism, theology and peace studies, and reconciliation said that the Holy Father’s announcement of the 2015/2016 Year of Mercy provided for the people of God across the globe a yearlong opportunity “to experience God's mercy”.

Reflecting on fostering the joy of establishing and maintaining a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ as one of the aspects that define the 10-year Pontificate of Pope Francis, Fr. Katongole called to mind the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel).

“The Holy Father calls upon everyone in the church to rejoice in the Gospel,” he said in reference to the first Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis that was given on 24 November 2013 on the Solemnity of Christ the King, and the conclusion of the Year of Faith

Pope Francis set out his vision for Christian life where the Gospel always radiates the glory of the Christian cross and constantly invites everyone to rejoice, Fr. Katongole further said about the joy of the Gospel as one of the key underpinnings of Pope Francis. 

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He went on to caution followers of Christ against attitudes that hinder joy in Christian living, highlighting pessimism, negativity, and materialism.

The author of several publications including ‘The Journey of Reconciliation: Groaning for a New Creation in Africa’ published in 2017 said that Pope Francis has also been identified with his attentiveness to the poor and the marginalized in society.

He explained, “Pope Francis is taking it from the biblical tradition that the poor, the widow, orphans, and the strangers are the key to God’s heart.” 

“That is why you see Pope Francis making a number of gestures that connects to these vulnerable groups. He has also paid a lot of attention to the migrant crisis both in Europe and Africa,” Fr. Katongole said during the event that had the Local Ordinary of Kampala Archdiocese, Archbishop Paul Ssemogerere, in attendance.

In his March 29 presentation, the Ugandan-born Catholic Priest also identified the Holy Father with his vision for the Church as “always going out to the peripheries”.


“The Church according to Pope Francis ought to be a sign and sacrament of God’s mercy. Pope Francis believes that the Church does not have a mission but the Church herself is the mission and that mission is always going out to the peripheries,” he said about the 266th Roman Catholic Pontiff.

Fr. Katongole recalled Pope Francis’ November 2015 message, when he expressed his preference for “a Church that is bruised, dirty, and fighting rather than a Church that is clinging to its security.”

“I see the Church as a field hospital after the battle in the business of healing wounds,” he repeated the words of the Holy Father when he addressed members of the Italian Conference of Catholic Bishops during his trip to Florence, underscoring the creative and welcoming nature of “evangelical poverty”. 

The Holy Father’s advocacy for solidarity defines his Pontificate, the Catholic Priest said, adding that solidarity has been manifested in denouncing some social vices such as the globalization of indifference and throwaway cultures that threaten unity.

He said that Pope Francis’ October 2020 Encyclical Letter, Fratelli Tutti, on fraternity and social friendship that explains solidarity in detail, and continued that the Pontiff has always been against “runaway capitalism that continues to create a big gap between the rich and the poor.”

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Fr. Katongole also recognized the Holy Father’s advocacy for nonviolence, saying, “Pope Francis believes that nonviolence is very proactive, it is a form of engagement, it is a style of responding to evil with good that is grounded in dialogue with each other.”

To be nonviolent, “means having a consistent conscious mind that says no to abortion, euthanasia, mass killing, and death sentence among other unethical vices,” the Ugandan-born Catholic Priest explained. 

The May 2015 Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis “on care for our common home”,  Laudato Si’, identifies the Holy Father as being concerned about the environment, Fr. Katongole said during his March 29 presentation to celebrate 10 years since Pope Francis was elected. 

In Laudato Si’, he said that Pope Francis made a simple argument that the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor go together.  

He explained, “Pope Francis says that mother earth is crying due to deforestation, pollution, and mining among others. We have disconnected from the earth and this is a spiritual problem.”

“We have forgotten that we are created by God and that everything He created is interconnected,” the Catholic Church leader said, adding that “to respond to the cry of the Earth, Pope Francis says that we just don’t need technical solutions but a change of mindset, we need a new spirituality that connects us with God and the creation. We need new programs and lifestyles.”

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