In an interview to commemorate Pope Francis’ ten-year anniversary as Pope, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, discusses a transformative decade, distinguished by the Pope’s teaching us how to live the Gospel.
By Deborah Castellano Lubov
With this week’s 10-year anniversary of Pope Francis’ election as Pope, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, says the Pope’s greatest achievement “has been to show us how to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” The Irish-born American Cardinal Prefect made this observation as he sat down with Vatican News for this interview ahead of the anniversary.
The Holy Father has called for the laity to possess a greater role in the Church, and women, in particular. How has the Pope been bringing to fruition a new era, if you will, from this point of view?
I believe that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has made tremendous progress in the Church, and has changed in many ways the mentality of so many, both clerics and non-clerics. I think the laity feel much more comfortable within the structures of the Church nowadays than they did ten years ago when Pope Francis came into office.
I believe that Pope Francis saw as his mission to continue the Second Vatican Council, the Council that called the laity to be an active, not only ‘participant,’ but ‘member,’ with all the rights due to baptism, that every person in the Church has. That was not so well known. Very seldom did theologians speak about the rights invested in all people who are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. I think he has done tremendously. He has named lay people all over the Vatican, and has encouraged the laity to be involved. He called me here to Rome to help especially with the laity, and to promote the laity within the Church, and to find structures and ways in which the laity can be active members. I believe that he has done that. We will begin a synod on synodality, bringing together the ideas, not just from a group of theologians, but from the people.
In this Dicastery, there is quite a bit of lay leadership?
Certainly in this Dicastery, and in several other Dicasteries, the laity are very prominent. In this Dicastery, the ordained ministers are the least noticeable. In fact, I’m the Prefect of the Dicastery, but the Secretary of the Dicastery is a layperson, married with two children. Then, in charge of marriage and family and human life, we have Dr. Gabriella [Gambino], who is not only an expert in bioethics, but a mother, of five children. We have Dr. Linda Ghisone, in charge of laity, who has organized all these conferences. She is the mother of two university-age students. They are leading this dicastery.
There are three priests in this dicastery out of 35. I happen to be Prefect, and, I don’t know, but can imagine I may have the distinct honor of being the last cleric to be the Prefect of this Dicastery.
Cardinal Farrell celebrating Mass for families
As Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, how has the Pope brought his closeness to everyday people with their daily struggles and hardships?
Pope Francis always speaks about Jesus Christ. To me, the uniqueness of Pope Francis is he’s in touch with the people and, when Pope Francis, he wants to teach us what how to put into practice what we learn from the doctrine of John Paul II and from Benedict’s emphasis on the theology of encounter with Jesus Christ. What Pope Francis is doing is showing us how to put that into practice each and every day. That how how close he is to people. In fact, I can tell you from personal experience, nothing brings more happiness and joy to Pope Francis than being down in that square and meeting people or gathering with people. He’s teaching us how to live. He’s teaching the Church in a special way to engage the laity and to engage with the world today. We can’t live separate from the world.
We have to be, as the ancient Christians were, in the Acts of the Apostles. They convinced and converted people to Christianity by what they said and by what they did. There was a Roman historian who said, look at how the Christians love and care for each other. Well, that’s the message today. If you ask what has Francis taught us, he has taught us that.
Think of what’s happening and think of how upset he gets when he talks about Ukraine and the people who are suffering, being martyred in Ukraine, or about what happened recently in the Mediterranean. What has Francis done? He’s told us that we need to get up, do something, and be close to other people. There is no such thing as a Christian who does not reach out to other people and who does not walk out of the churches to engage with the world and our brothers and sisters.
Pope Francis repeatedly notes the importance of protecting life from conception until natural death, constantly reminding the great value of elderly and grandparents. What message during these years, have you found to be most profound on these themes?
The thing that Pope Francis has impressed upon me about the whole concept of pro-life is that it must be born in our own hearts. It is not something that some law can impose upon us. It’s not something that some constitution of some country can impose upon us or not. We will be successful in building a culture of life only when we change the minds and the hearts of all people. It’s a question of the conscience of every individual who understands the sacredness of human life. That refers not only to the question of abortion, but to the question of unjust wars, of killing, of the death penalty. I mean, where are we if we think that God has created us and God has instilled in us His own image and likeness? Well, is that what we are killing? Pope Francis talks about a conversion of heart and of spirit. And until we all get that message straight, we’re not going anywhere with creating a culture of life, because you will only create a culture of life by changing one person at a time.
As we approach this important anniversary, how would you describe the transformation in the Church brought about by Pope Francis during these ten years of pontificate?
I think Pope Francis’ greatest achievement has been to show us how to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To me, that is it. He will be remembered for that, and teaching us all that we need to go out to the peripheries. That means we have to go out of our own comfort zone and engage with people. Pope Francis is the person most looked to teach us, how the world should live. Do we all listen to him? No. But he has opened up the arms of the Church to embrace the whole world, not just the Catholics, and not just the good Catholics who go to church. All Catholics. All people. Nobody’s excluded. And to me, that is the great thing that Pope Francis has taught us in these ten years.