Fr Abbot John Eudes Bamberger, Abbey of the Genesee

January 8, 2022

The title of this book conveys the spirit and tone of this very personal study of the ministry of Pope Francis. Implied in the discussion that treat of various features of the Pope’s dealings with people he meets with in the course of his Papal activities is a long friendship between the author and the Pope. This is rather a work on the spirituality of the Holy Father and its early roots in his formative years as a Jesuit.  This pastoral work is written by a fellow Jesuit who more than forty years ago became an eager and faithful disciple of Father Bergoglio. It was Father Bergoglio, acting novice master for the Jesuits, who received the young Fares into the novitiate and taught him the Jesuit way of life and after the novitiate served as his spiritual director. Later on, the author worked in Buenos Aires where Bergoglio had been made Bishop of the largest city of the country.

Fr. Fares became a prominent presence in the area for he was the Professor of Metaphysics at the Pontificia Universidad Catholica de Argentina. At the same time, he also served in a ministry of feeding the poor of the area. In addition he joined a colleague in managing a hospice for the terminally sick.

The author begins his account of Bergoglio’s priestly work with a brief statement that characterizes the Jesuit-Pope’s manner in dealing with people: “To speak personally, authentically, and directly.” He seeks to create a climate of respect for each person. Just as Jesus’ ministry was marked by a directness of encounter with others, so we are to strive to follow his example. He urges us to “create a culture of encounter” that conveys respect for the individual, however lowly in the opinion of the world.

While Francis as Pope continued to express his message of concern for all persons in direct and simple language, yet he had studied thoroughly the theologically sophisticated work of Romano Guardini and Hans Urs von Balthasar, and was strongly influenced by their writings. He made it a point to express their insights in a simple language adapted to the capacity of the individuals he encountered. In the effort to reach out to persons of all conditions, Francis was not always careful in his words. He made some mistakes that were to cause some confusion in the faithful on occasion regarding homosexuality: who am I to judge? St. Paul had no such doubts (cf. 1Cor.6:9). In his more formal writings he has been more cautious in his expressing the faith and its teachings.

Already as a young Provincial of the Jesuits in 1974, Fr. Bergoglio sated that he had a strong confidence in the views and practices of the “people of faith” regardless of their lack of training or theological sophistication. He gives as an example the pilgrims who traveled to the Marian shrine of Lujan in Argentina. He was sensitive to the views of the faithful people of God and spoke movingly of the need to listen to them with attention and respect. As he addressed the meeting of Jesuit provincials in 1977 he stressed the need for the Fathers of the Society to reach out to non-believers and “the voiceless poor”, as Pope Paul VI had urged the Society of Jesus. Certainly as Pope, Francis has repeatedly shown this concern in his dealings with atheists. He also has expressed great concern for the sick, the crippled, and by his visit to the Roman jail and its prisoners. As Archbishop he urged the priests of his Diocese of Buenos Aires to engage in the “culture of encounter”. This theme was take up again and treated in detail when he was Cardinal. He stressed that encounter with Jesus is the most important for the ministry. It is the basis from which he urges the faithful to go out to contact others, to spread the faith but also to receive what others have to offer. These two movements are blended into a whole so that encounter with others is impelled by intimate response to God who gave his Son that we might be formed into  a whole. We are united with one another through becoming united with Him.

The Church, he stated to the Ambassadors to the Holy See, works for the integral person, the full development of each. He also suggests that it is by looking to God that one gains inspiration. The fruit of dialogue rather than confrontation is peace among people. One of the major sources of inequality in the modern world, the Pope asserts, is the excessive importance given to money and wealth. He does not hesitate to criticize the fact that money rules today rather than serves human interests. He urges Church leaders to reverse this practice, using available buildings for hostels rather than profitable hotels. The people of God are to stress the dignity of every individual, and stress that refuges and the homeless possess the dignity of being children of God.  In various contexts and to different audiences Pope Francis stresses the importance of meeting others as deserving of respect. In this way, he encouraged bishops to instill hope that brings light to the eyes.

The last brief chapter concisely summarizes the Pope’s manner of viewing his office. He considers himself as a pilgrim, walking along with his companions, at their head, in brotherhood. His choice of the name “Francis” indicates this view he takes of his office. His concept of his pastoral office is that t is an expression of a ” culture of encounter.” This chapter is followed by a section that suggests various topics that a reader may wish to examine and study in greater detail.

Clearly this book treats, as the author realizes with the pastoral character of the office of Pope Francis. It deals then only with a part of his role. There are also legal and canonical issues that require his attention and decision that remain to be resolved. A prominent one that continues to require further, decisive action on his part is that of the cases of sexual abuse by priests, as he acknowledges.

Pope Francis has won the hearts of many, unbelievers as well as of many Catholics. May he add to the fruitfulness of his years in office by showing equal effectiveness in all areas of the Church’s involvements in our increasingly secularized world.

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