Pray for Me: The life and spiritual vision of Pope
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Francis, Bishop of Rome: A short biography
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On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on faith, family
and the Church in the 21st century
Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Abraham
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"IT'S a liberation," one English Roman Catholic bishop said to
me shortly after the accession of Pope Francis. The delight in his
face mirrored the sentiments of many of us from the moment when the
curtains across the balcony of St Peter's Basilica were pulled open
to reveal the chosen successor to Pope Benedict XVI.
Buona sera, said Francis, the former Argentinian
Cardinal Bergoglio, speaking in Italian - "Good evening." That
person-to-person tone was reminiscent of Blessed John XXIII's words
after he was elected. Francis continued, simply, richly,
colloquially. Reading between the lines, he was sketching what
amounted to a new programme. He described himself not as Pope, but
as the Bishop of Rome, the Church that "presides in charity over
all the Churches". So he would be a bishop among bishops, among his
people and with his people, especially the poor. He asked them to
pray for him before he blessed them. Silence fell over the huge
crowd. It was a startling change of style. He teaches in that
In the publishing world, there was a scramble for biographies of
this unexpected choice - the first Latino Pope and the first
Jesuit. Robert Moynihan's Pray for Me is one of the pop-up
books that followed. As editor of the Inside the Vatican
monthly, Moynihan had access under the previous two papacies
to sources deep in Rome. His focus this time is different: the new
Pope's spirituality. Inspired by his subject, Moynihan reveals
himself as a bit of a lay preacher. He recalls Francis's first
days, with comment and interpretation, then looks back at his life,
and ends with quotations from his works.
Moynihan wants to assert continuity between the new papacy and
the old, whereas what enthuses so many is the difference. So he
repeats the pre-conclave homily delivered by the then Joseph
Ratzinger in 2005 with its denunciation of "the dictatorship of
relativism". Francis agrees; but there is abundant evidence that he
has a mind of his own.
Some of that evidence is on hand in Francis, Bishop of
Rome by the Dublin priest Michael Collins. He recounts, for
example, how, after Benedict XVI's 2006 Regensburg lecture, with
its unfortunate uncon- textualised reference to Muhammad, the then
Archbishop Bergoglio's press spokesman gave a highly critical
comment to Newsweek Argentina. Rome was furious. Collins
reports also that Bergoglio told the Anglican Bishop in Argentina
that the Ordinariate for former Anglicans seemed to him to be an
Collins makes a stab at the political setting to Francis's
career in Argentina as Jesuit Provincial and then Archbishop of
Buenos Aires. In somewhat helter-skelter fashion, inevitable in a
book produced at short notice, Collins explains how Peronism became
the ideology of Argentina, purporting to bring together Church,
army, and unions in a corporate harmony. It split apart under the
weight of its own contradictions, and, from 1973 to 1983, there was
civil strife culminating in an appalling "Dirty War" between Left
and Right under a military dictatorship that left hardly anyone
safe. Some 30,000 victims "disappeared".
In other countries, such as Brazil and Chile, Jesuits were in
the van of resistance to dictatorship, but in Argentina Bergoglio
cautiously reined his men back. Some of them loathed him for it, as
Moynihan and Collins note. But at least he brought his men through:
on his watch, no Jesuits in Argentina were killed.
Particular controversy surrounds the kidnap, detention, and
torture of Fr Francisco Jalics and Fr Orlando Yorio, who had been
working in a Buenos Aires slum. Bergoglio feared that they were in
danger, and ordered them to leave. They refused. It was not clear
how far they were still affiliated to their Jesuit order, and the
snatch squads came for them.
To the end of his life, Yorio believed that they had been cast
aside by Bergoglio; but Jalics changed his view, and, in 2000, he
and his former Provincial were reconciled. After celebrating mass,
the two men fell into each other's arms and wept. Both Moynihan and
Collins cover this murky episode.
Later, when Bergoglio was Primate and president of the Bishops'
Conference, the RC Church in Argentina made several apologies.
Bergoglio reflected on those "complex" times and his own attraction
to a Peronist position in his conversations with Rabbi Abraham
Skorka, now published in English translation as On Heaven and
This is a book of another sort. It will be a "must" for any
student of the new Pope, but it makes demands on the ordinary
reader. Pope and rabbi range over the gamut of human life, faith,
and practice. They consider religion and atheism, prayer, death,
euthanasia, abortion, divorce, same-sex marriage, the Holocaust
(both urge the Vatican to open the archives), communism,
capitalism, and globalisation.
The new Pope shows himself in the book to be a doctrinal
conservative, just as John XXIII was. But, as with Pope John, the
doctrinal stance is linked with openness. Francis has changed.
Throughout his career he has been a governor. He has learnt from
mistakes and felt "the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my
sin" ("an astonishing phrase", Moynihan says). I get the impression
that, like John, he will be carried further by the Spirit.
The Jesuits used to say that he never smiled. Now he smiles all
the time. When he joined the Jesuits, he did so in part because of
their commitment to mission. At the age of 76, he has a new mission
John Wilkins is a former editor of The Tablet.