New books with illuminating background on Pope Francis' life
POPE FRANCIS, OUR BROTHER, OUR FRIEND
by Alejandro Bermudez (Editor)
(Ignatius Press, 2013, hardback, 176pp, $36.00, ISBN: 978-1-58617-872-7. Available from Freedom Publishing)
This is a handsome, fascinating book. It is not, however, your typical biography.
There is an initial summary of the main phases of the life of Jorge Bergoglio before he was elected Pope, but the main thrust of the book is a collection of thoughtful and well-informed interviews with a variety of his Argentine contemporaries who knew him over the years. Overall we are given fascinating insights into the views and actions of the new Pope.
Ten of Jorge Bergoglio's Jesuit contemporaries provide the first range of interviews. As religious men, both younger and older who lived in Jesuit communities with the future Pontiff, they are respectful, but not overwhelmed by his range of extraordinary appointments.
They always praise his deep concern for people, especially the poor, but some hint that while Jorge was always theologically orthodox, some felt his thinking was not "adventurous" enough.
Here we need to read between the lines. The interviewer-editor, Alejandro Bermudez, is a leading Catholic journalist in the Americas, both North and South and he deftly guides his subjects to keep their thoughts focused on major issues. Jorge Bergoglio's attitudes towards the poor, marginalised and oppressed of Latin America, his views on liberation theology and his relations with the Argentine military dictatorship are canvassed.
Those interviewed - apart from those in Jesuit communities - include a prominent rabbi in Buenos Aires, an Argentine senator, a priest working in the slums which surround the capital and a beggar whom the future Pope met while he walked to his office when Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
The book may have been enhanced with an interview or two from those who knew Jorge prior to his seeking entry to the Society of Jesus.
Pope Francis has a striking and profound to devotion to Mary and soon after his election journeyed to Fatima to dedicate his Pontificate to her. However, his unique Marian devotion is to "Mary, Undoer of Knots" and that does not resonate with English-speaking Catholics who probably have never heard of this term.
One of those interviewed, Father Juan Scannone, SJ explained how Jorge Bergoglio came to this devotion.
After his period as Jesuit Provincial in Argentina, Father Jorge went to Munich to do his doctorate on the theology of Romano Guardini.
In fact, he was there only a few months and the doctorate was never completed.
However, while there he visited the picture and shrine of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots in Augsburg, an hour's train journey from Munich. The painting shows Mary untying knots from a white ribbon she receives from an angel, while another angel accepts the ribbon which Mary has untied.
Father Jorge thought of the "knots" that bind and hamper people: sinful habits, physical and mental illnesses, grinding poverty, religious ignorance and social convention. He was drawn to honour Mary as one who could release people from the weaknesses which hamper their human and religious development.
He encouraged the devotion on his return to Argentina as Bishop, Archbishop and Cardinal in Buenos Aires. A marginal devotion in Germany became a major way of drawing people to God in distant South America. Overall, this attractive book will appeal to the thoughtful reader anxious to know more about the new Pope.
The book would make a fine addition to Catholic secondary school and tertiary libraries, religious houses and interested readers in general.