Rafael LUCIANI, Pope Francis and the Theology of the People. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 2017. pp. 199. $28.00 pb. ISNB 9781626982529. Reviewed by Pierre HEGY, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY 11530.


This book is an introduction to and an apology of Pope Francis and the theology of the people. The author is a lay theologian from Caracas, Venezuela. It is a demanding book because its content is quite foreign to common academic standards of critical analysis.

There are five chapters, the first on people as new locus theologicus, the second on the interpretation the signs of the times, the third on evangelization, the next on the geopolitics of Pope Francis, and the last on the new paradigm of living according to Jesus.

This liberation theology developed out of the reflections within the Argentinian Pastoral Commission created in 1966. Some of its members – Luciano Gera, Rafael Tello, and C. M. Galli – have been influential in the Argentinian theology for several decades. The point of departure was a “people-centered approach to pastoral action.” (7) It is the people who are the subjects and agents of their own history, hence the church must listen to them. “It is the periphery [people] who give meaning to the center [the church] and not the other way around.”(7)  “Consequently, theology has to be contextualized in peoples and their cultures, never outside them.”  More specifically, the church must become incarnate among the poor because “they constitute the majority of humankind.” (11).

Poverty is not just material; it implies the moral attitude of “humble openness to others, to God, and to human beings.”(16). Hence we must distinguish between the sensus fidelium which is “the sum of individuals who believe the same truths” and the sensus populi which refers to “a sociocultural soteriology of a communal nature” and to “being immersed in the web of sociocultural relations comprising the world.” (17). Theology must express this sensus populi, that is, “the soul of the people also called popular mystique [which is the] hermeneutical locus of popular culture.” (23) Needless to say, traditional theology and the “clerical culture” are incapable of such an achievement.

The second chapter on the signs of the times is a critique of the modern condition. The effect of globalization has been standardization and homogenization which in turn lead to “loss of local identities, growing inequalities, xenophobic fragmentation, and the proliferation of wars.” (37) Cardinal Bergoglio in 2013 had very stronger words about ”the imperialism of money with its demonic effects such as drugs, corruption, and human trafficking.” (43) He condemned “an economic system which has as its center an idol, which is called money.” This system produces “hundreds of millions” of poor people who will always live on the peripheries. Their only hope is “a church of and for the poor.” (51)

The next chapter, “Towards a Liberating Pastoral Ministry” is the core of the book. The new paradigm of the church’s presence in the world consists of moving from the belief that “only a few can be saved provided they belong to the church institution,” to salvation of “all of us, living in kinship and solidarity, especially with the poor.” (65) This new “evangelization of culture” does not mean “imposing a Christian culture, let alone a clerical culture.”(83) It requires inculturation into the life-worlds of the poor, or in the words of Francis, a ”genuine interpersonal encounter” with them (97), or more simply, “tak[ing] on the small of the sheep.” (101).

The next chapter describes the geopolitical agenda of Pope Francis. The old paradigm was defined in terms of power and conquest of territorial spaces. The new paradigm was outlined by the Uruguayan Alberto FerrÄ‚©. It is based on four criteria developed in Joy of the Gospel: “the whole before the part,” “reality before the idea,” “unity over conflict,” and “time over space.” This geopolitical agenda is not very clear to this reviewer.

The last chapter, “From Ecclesial Culture to Personal Encounter with Jesus” is mainly a critique of the “prevailing clerical mindset” which is self-referential and self-centered. There is also a scathing critique of the “pathology of power,” especially in the Curia. The conclusion of the book is a short exhortation to live according to the gospel of Jesus.

This book is a non-critical apology of the theology of the people, dealing with social issues like poverty, world trade and organizations without input from the social sciences. It is, however, a good introduction to the main themes of Argentinian theology which deserves to be read as most of the most of the basic sources are not available in English.