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Pray for Me: The Life and Spiritual Vision of Pope Francis, First Pope from the Americas Hardcover – April 30, 2013
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The Head and the Heart
Pray for me.
-Pope Francis, March 13, 2013, from the balcony of
St. Peter's Basilica immediately after his election
The initial silence of the new pope struck all who saw him. And during those moments, as Pope Francis stood there smiling, seeming almost awkward, the world formed its first, and inevitably lasting, impression of the new bishop of Rome. It was a good impression. In his silence, Francis seemed to express a modesty, a humility, that the crowd below appreciated. Still, they desired to know him better, to understand who he was and what he intended to do.
But, for a moment, that desire was frustrated by the new pope's evident desire to remain "hidden" for just a little while longer, though the cameras of the world were trained upon him. And in that tension between words and silence, between a desire to know and a wish to remain hid- den, a bond was formed between Francis and the people of St. Peter's Square.
How such things happen is not easy to explain. But be- fore he said anything at all, the people had already begun to understand him, and to appreciate him. In his silence, in his modesty, in what appeared to be even a certain clumsiness, he was revealing, it seemed, his humanity, his sensitivity, and so spontaneous cries sprang up: "Viva il Papa!" "Long live the pope!"
A connection was formed. A type of communion. And we sensed that hidden from our sight were great depths of emotion, and great depths of thought, which were the source of a simplicity that drew us already into a relation- ship with him. Francis was not polished. He was not re- hearsed. He was simply himself. A man dressed in white, standing in silence.
He had emerged as the leader of the Catholic Church at a very delicate moment. The previous pope, Benedict XVI, had stepped down from his post just two weeks before, fly- ing in a helicopter from the Vatican to Castel Gandolfo, fifteen miles outside of Rome, in an unprecedented decision that had left many in the Church confused and uncertain.
One could not look at Francis standing there, smiling, seemingly at peace, without thinking: There is something in him, deep down, which motivates him, which energizes him, which informs his life. But we could not know at that moment what that "something" was. We were only to discover it slowly during the days that followed.
And so those first days of the new pope became in some ways like a detective story, where each action, each word of Francis, gave us a clue to who he is, and why. The mystery was: What is the source of this man's humility and strength? And the answer was: his faith.
We would discover later that he was drawing not upon the advice of clerical advisers, or media "spinmeisters," but upon deep wells of personal faith, wells whose sources were in the faith of his grandparents and parents and brothers and sisters, and his parish priest when he was a child, in the Marian piety of his youth, and in the books he had read, in the teachings of St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Ignatius of Loyola, in the whole, rich culture of Argentine Catholicism in the 1930s and 1940s, leading to an unfor- gettable experience in 1953 of what he described as "God's mercy" toward him. It was then that he decided to commit his life to the cause of God in this fallen world.
In a talk on the Virgin Mary given on December 8, 2012, Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote something about Mary that seemed to describe also this initial moment of the new pope's silence: "I consider it important to focus on the final sentence of Luke's Annunciation narrative. 'And the angel departed from her.' The great hour of Mary's encounter with God's messenger-in which her whole life is changed- comes to an end, and she remains there alone, with a task that truly surpasses all human capacity." Benedict added: "May Mary Immaculate teach us to listen in silence to the voice of God, and receive his Grace which frees from sin and every selfishness so that we can taste true joy."
These words could serve as a preface to those first mo- ments of encounter with the new pope. Here we were, rather unknowingly beginning a journey of exploration into the heart, mind, and soul of the man who had just taken that unusual papal name Francis.
During the hour before the new pope appeared before the world and the citizens of Rome, he made a telephone call to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, to tell him he would visit him soon. Then, when all was ready, the cardinal proto-deacon Jean-Louis Tauran came to the balcony and at 8:12 p.m., one hour and six minutes after the white smoke, announced the name of the new pope.
The College of Cardinals had chosen Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., age seventy-six, archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, to become the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Francis was only two years younger than Benedict XVI had been when he was elected, in 2005, but he was eighteen years older than Pope John Paul II, the prede- cessor of Benedict, who was fifty-eight when he was elected, in 1978.
The new pope's choice of a name was the first clue we had to his character, even before the new pontiff spoke a word. By choosing Francis instead of other possible names (Pius XIII, John XXIV, Paul VII, John Paul III, Bene- dict XVII, or even Leo XIV), the new pope was signaling that he would chart his own course, break new ground- and that he would do so in great simplicity, and out of deep love for the poor of this world.
At 8:22 p.m.-ten minutes after the announcement by Car- dinal Tauran-Pope Francis, preceded by the cross, ap- peared on the loggia of the basilica, to greet the people and to impart his first apostolic blessing, Urbi et Orbi (to the city of Rome and to the world). Beside him on the balcony stood Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, O.F.M., of Brazil. This was un- usual, against normal protocol. Normally only the pope's vicar for Rome (Cardinal Vallini), and the Vatican secretary of state (Cardinal Bertone), along with the papal master of ceremonies (Monsignor Marini), would be expected to stand with the new pope on the balcony. Later we would learn that Pope Francis had insisted that Hummes stand with him at that moment. This, too, seemed a clue to the man and his program, for Hummes has criticized the spread of global capitalism, claiming it has contributed to "misery and pov- erty affecting millions around the world." And Pope Francis would later reveal that he had been inspired to take his name from St. Francis of Assisi by Hummes, his good friend, who had whispered to him after his election but before his choice of a name, "Don't forget the poor." At the very least, it showed how Francis could privilege a personal friendship at a moment of great solemnity.
"Brothers and sisters, good evening.
You know that the duty of the conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world to get him. But here we are.
I thank you for your welcome. The diocesan community of Rome has its bishop. Thank you!
First of all, I would like to say a prayer for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI. Let us all pray together for him, that the Lord will bless him and that our Lady will protect him."
The crowd then joined him as he prayed for Benedict, in Italian, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be to the Father.
"And now let us begin this journey," Francis said.
Bishop and people. This journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches. A journey of brotherhood, of love, of trust between us.
Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world, that there might be a great sense of brotherhood.
My hope is that this journey of the Church that we begin today, together with the help of my Cardinal Vicar, here present, may be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city.
And now I would like to give the blessing. But first, first, I want to ask you a favor. Before the Bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord that he bless me-the prayer of the people, asking a Benediction for their Bishop. Let us say in silence this prayer, of you over me.
So once again, there was silence. The silence of prayer. Prayer not of the pope for the people, but of the people for the pope. Then Francis spoke again.
"I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will."
And he gave his blessing, in Latin, in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Brothers and sisters, I am leaving you. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me and I will be with you again soon. . . We will see one another soon.
Tomorrow I want to go to pray to the Madonna, that she may protect all of Rome. Good night and sleep well!
In these first words of his pontificate, Francis did three noteworthy things: First, he spoke of Pope Emeritus Benedict as "Bishop [of Rome] Emeritus Benedict." He did not use the words "Pope Emeritus" to refer to Benedict. Second, he asked the people to pray that the Lord bless him as he began his pontificate, before giving his own blessing of the people. Third, he said he would go the next day to "the Ma- donna," at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where there is an icon of Mary and the child Jesus, traditionally believed to have been painted by St. Luke, called the Salus Populi Romani, the Protection of the Roman People.
And so, in his first words, Francis set the tone of all that was to follow, one of humility, one of prayer.
Clearly, here was a pope with a deep Franciscan and Marian spirituality. Yet if his strength came from his faith, where had his spirituality come from? What did it mean to him? What could it mean to us? And why had he begun with a request for prayer for himself? Why had he humbly asked: "Pray for me"?
Who Is Francis? The press was soon flooded with reports about the life of this surprising new pope, this choice predicted by almost no one, especially the oddsmakers. Within hours news began to emerge that put the election of Bergoglio in a new light. Apparently, as had been rumored but never con- firmed, the Argentine cardinal had been a strong candidate for the papacy in 2005, though he himself had supported Joseph Ratzinger. In fact, as many as forty cardinals, many wishing to block the election of Benedict XVI, had evidently voted for Bergoglio, even against his will, until, at lunch in the Domus Santa Marta on April 19, 2005, the final day of the conclave, it is said, Bergoglio made a negative sign with his hand, indicating that he preferred the cardinals not vote for him any longer.
These reports made clear that, far from being a surprise, Bergoglio should have been considered the leading candidate in 2013. Despite his age of seventy-six, the cardinals thought the archbishop of Buenos Aires should be the next pontiff.
The significance of his choosing the name Francis cannot be overstated. It is a reflection of his life. Having become archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, he had left the comfort- able episcopal residence next to the cathedral and gone to live in an apartment a short distance away, together with another elderly bishop. In the evening, Bergoglio did the cooking. He took the bus to get around the city. And he kept his dis- tance from the Roman Curia, even after Pope John Paul II made Bergoglio a cardinal, in February 2001. "On that occa- sion, Bergoglio distinguished himself by his reserve among his many more festive colleagues," Italian Vaticanist Sandro Magister noted in 2002. "Hundreds of Argentinians had begun fund-raising efforts to fly to Rome to pay homage to the new man with the red hat. But Bergoglio stopped them. He ordered them to remain in Argentina and distribute the money they had raised to the poor. In Rome, he celebrated his new honor nearly alone-and with Lenten austerity."
In short, Bergoglio is a man whose words are matched by his actions. A man who does what he asks others to do.
"There isn't a politician [in Argentina], from the right to the extreme left, who isn't dying for the blessing of Bergoglio," Magister wrote. "Even the women of Plaza de Mayo, ultraradicals and unbridled anti-Catholics, treat him with respect. He has even made inroads with one of them in private meetings. On another occasion, he visited the death- bed of an ex-bishop, Jeronimo Podestá, who had married in defiance of the Church and was dying poor and forgotten by all. From that moment, Mrs. Podestá became one of his devoted fans."
He is a man who is able to seek out the poor, the ostra- cized, the abandoned.
And note well: "Someone in the Vatican had the idea to call him to direct an important dicastery," Magister wrote. " 'Please, I would die in the Curia,' Bergoglio implored. They spared him."
He is not a man who desired to be in the Roman Curia, or would have chosen to become its head.
The Vatican's Official Biography
The Vatican quickly released an official biography that contained the key facts of Bergoglio's life and some colorful particulars.
The first Pope of the Americas, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, hails from Argentina.
The seventy-six-year-old Jesuit Archbishop of Bue- nos Aires is a prominent figure throughout the conti- nent, yet remains a simple pastor who is deeply loved by his diocese, throughout which he has traveled ex- tensively on the underground and by bus during the fifteen years of his episcopal ministry. "My people are poor and I am one of them," he has said more than once, explaining his decision to live in an apartment and cook his own supper.
He has always advised his priests to show mercy and apostolic courage and to keep their doors open to everyone. The worst thing that could happen to the Church, he has said on various occasions, "is what de Lubac called spiritual worldliness," which means, "being self-centered."
And when he speaks of social justice, he calls people first of all to pick up the Catechism, to rediscover the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. His project is simple: if you follow Christ, you understand that "trampling upon a person's dignity is a serious sin."
Despite his reserved character-his official biogra- phy consists of only a few lines, at least until his ap- pointment as Archbishop of Buenos Aires-he became a reference point because of the strong stances he took during the dramatic financial crisis that overwhelmed the country in 2001.
He was born in Buenos Aires on December 17, 1936, the son of Italian immigrants.
His father Mario was an accountant employed by the railways and his mother, Regina Sivori, was a com- mitted wife dedicated to raising their five children.
He graduated as a chemical technician and then chose the path of the priesthood, entering the Dioc- esan Seminary of Villa Devoto.
On March 11, 1958, he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus. He completed his studies of the hu- manities in Chile and returned to Argentina in 1963 to graduate with a degree in philosophy from the Colegio de San José in San Miguel. From 1964 to 1965 he taught literature and psychology at Immaculate Conception College in Santa Fé and in 1966 he taught the same sub- ject at the Colegio del Salvatore in Buenos Aires. From 1967 to 1970 he studied theology and obtained a degree from the Colegio of San José.
On December 13, 1969, he was ordained a priest by Archbishop Ramón José Castellano.
He continued his training between 1970 and 1971 at the University of Alcalá de Henares, Spain, and on April 22, 1973, made his final profession with the Jesu- its. Back in Argentina, he was novice master at Villa Barilari, San Miguel; professor at the Faculty of The- ology of San Miguel; consultor to the Province of the Society of Jesus, and also Rector of the Colegio Máx- imo of the Faculty of Philosophy and Theology.
On July 31, 1973, he was appointed Provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina, an office he held for six years. He then resumed his work in the university sector and from 1980 to 1986 served once again as Rector of the Colegio de San José, as well as parish priest, again in San Miguel. In March 1986 he went to Germany to fin- ish his doctoral thesis; his superiors then sent him to the Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires and next to the Jesuit Church in the city of Córdoba as spiritual director and confessor.
It was Cardinal Antonio Quarracino, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, who wanted him as a close collaborator. So, on May 20, 1992, Pope John Paul II appointed him titular Bishop of Auca and Auxiliary of Buenos Aires. On May 27 he received episcopal ordination from the Cardinal in the cathedral. He chose as his episcopal motto, miserando atque eligendo, and on his coat of arms inserted the IHS, the symbol of the Society of Jesus.
He gave his first interview as a bishop to a parish newsletter, Estrellita de Belém. He was immediately ap- pointed Episcopal Vicar of the Flores district and on December 21, 1993, was also entrusted with the office of Vicar General of the Archdiocese.
Thus it came as no surprise when, on June 3, 1997, he was raised to the dignity of Coadjutor Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Not even nine months had passed when, upon the death of Cardinal Quarracino, he succeeded him on February 28, 1998, as Archbishop, Primate of Argentina, and Ordinary for Eastern-rite faithful in Argentina who have no Ordinary of their own rite.
Three years later at the Consistory of February 21, 2001, John Paul II created him Cardinal, assigning him the title of San Roberto Bellarmino. He asked the faithful not to come to Rome to celebrate his creation as Cardinal but rather to donate to the poor what they would have spent on the journey.
As Grand Chancellor of the Catholic University of Argentina, he is the author of the books Meditaciones para religiosos [Meditations for the religious] (1982), Reflexiones sobre la vida apostólica [Reflections on the apostolic life] (1992), and Reflexiones de esperanza [Reflections on hope] (1992).
In October 2001, he was appointed General Relator to the Tenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Episcopal Ministry. This task was entrusted to him at the last minute to replace Cardinal Edward Michael Egan, Archbishop of New York, who was obliged to stay in his homeland because of the ter- rorist attacks on September 11.
At the Synod he placed particular emphasis on "the prophetic mission of the bishop," his being a "prophet of justice," his duty to "preach ceaselessly" the social doctrine of the Church and also "to express an authen- tic judgment in matters of faith and morals."
All the while, Cardinal Bergoglio was becoming ever more popular in Latin America. Despite this, he never relaxed his sober approach or his strict lifestyle, which some have defined as almost "ascetic." In this spirit of poverty, he declined to be appointed as Presi- dent of the Argentine Bishops' Conference in 2002, but three years later he was elected and then, in 2008, reconfirmed for a further three-year mandate. Mean- while in April 2005 he took part in the Conclave in which Pope Benedict XVI was elected.
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires-a diocese with more than 3 million inhabitants-he conceived of a missionary project based on communion and evange- lization. He had four main goals: open and brotherly communities, an informed laity playing a lead role, evangelization efforts addressed to every inhabitant of the city, and assistance to the poor and the sick. He aimed to reevangelize Buenos Aires, "taking into ac- count those who live there, its structure, and its his- tory." He asked priests and lay people to work together. In September 2009 he launched the solidarity cam- paign for the bicentenary of the Independence of the country. Two hundred charitable agencies are to be set up by 2016. And on a continental scale, he expected much from the impact of the message of the Aparecida Conference in 2007, to the point of describing it as the "Evangelii Nuntiandi of Latin America."
Until the beginning of the recent sede vacante, he was a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congrega- tion for the Clergy, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Pontifical Council for the Family, and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.
But this official biography only begins to give us insight into the man himself. To understand Pope Francis, one has to look more closely at how he treats people. Especially ordinary people. How? Well, for one thing, with respect, by calling them on the phone and talking to them directly.
One of the first people he called on the day after his elec- tion was his younger sister in Argentina. She told Italy's daily Catholic newspaper, Avvenire, that she spoke to her brother on March 14.
Pope Francis called his sister to say he was okay, but he had another message as well. He said he wouldn't be calling the rest of the family so that the Vatican wouldn't get a high phone bill.
And then he called the father general of the Jesuit order, his former superior.
When he put the call through to the Curia of the Jesu- its, just a couple hundred yards from the Vatican, the young doorman who answered thought it might be a joke, Catholic News Agency reported. Pope Francis had to patiently con- vince the doorman that he really was the pope and wished to thank the father general for a letter he had received upon his election.
According to Father Claudio Barriga, S.J., who recounted the incident in an e-mail to fellow Jesuits around the world, the unexpected phone call from the pope came around 10:15 a.m. Rome time.
The doorman answered the phone. They said it was a call from St. Martha's Residence and he heard a soft and serene voice: "Buon giorno, sono il Papa Francesco, vorrei parlare con il Padre Generale" (Good morning, it's Pope Francis. I'd like to speak with the Father General).
The doorman almost answered: "Yeah, and I'm Napoleon," but he resisted. Instead he replied curtly, "May I ask who's calling?" The Pope realized the young Italian man didn't believe it was him, so he kindly repeated, "Seriously, it's Pope Francis. What's your name?"
Ever since the Pope's election, our phone has been ringing every two minutes and a lot of people are call- ing, including a few lunatics.
Once the doorman realized his mistake he answered with a hesitant and nervous voice:
"My name is Andrew."
"How are you, Andrew?" asked the Pope. "Fine, pardon me, just a little bit confused."
The Holy Father responded, "Don't worry, could you please connect me with the Father General? I would like to thank him for the beautiful letter he sent me."
"Pardon me, Your Holiness, I'll connect you right now," said the doorman.
"No problem. I'll wait as long as necessary," said Pope Francis.
The doorman handed the phone to the Father General's private secretary, Brother Alfonso.
"Hello?" Brother Alfonso said.
"With whom am I speaking?" the Pope asked.
"It's Alfonso, the Father General's personal secre- tary," he replied.
"It's the Pope, I would like to speak with the Father General to thank him for the beautiful letter he sent me," the Holy Father said.
"Sure, just a moment," Brother Alfonso replied in amazement.
As he made his way to the office of Father Adolfo Nicolás, the Jesuit Father General, he continued his conversation.
"Holy Father, congratulations on your election! We are all happy here for your election, we are praying a lot for you," Brother Alfonso told him.
"Praying that I keep going or that I turn back?" the Pope joked.
"That you keep going, of course," he replied, as the Holy Father laughed.
Stunned and bewildered, Brother Alfonso didn't even bother to knock and simply entered the office of the Father General, who looked at him with surprise. He gave him the phone, looked at him and said: "The Pope."
We don't know the details about what happened next, but the Pope cordially thanked the Father Gen- eral for his letter. The Father General said he would like to see him to greet him. The Pope said he would instruct his secretary so that they could meet as soon as possible and that somebody from the Vatican would be in touch.
And the calls kept coming.
"He called the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires to check in before celebrating Mass in St. Peter's Square," said Father Javier Soteras, director of Radio Maria Argentina. "When a nun answered the phone, she asked, 'Who is calling?' and he said, 'Father Jorge.' The nun said, 'Your Holiness?' He said,
'Oh, c'mon, it's Father Jorge,' kind of referencing that it was not a time for official titles."
Pope Francis even called his Argentine dentist to cancel his appointments. Father Soteras explained, "It's his way of showing respect. It's obvious that he wouldn't be stopping by, but he wants to personally let these people know."
Pope Francis also showed tact and generosity by phoning his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph (Benedict's original name was Joseph Ratzinger, so St. Joseph is his patron saint and the Feast of St. Joseph is also his feast).
The phone conversation was "long and cordial," the Vatican press office reported. Pope Francis renewed his ex- pression of thanks to his predecessor for his long service to the Church, and Benedict XVI assured his successor of his prayerful support. Benedict had followed the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis carefully by television from Castel Gandolfo.
Even though Pope Francis is very close to his family, he would often skip their barbecues back home to spend Sundays or holidays in Buenos Aires's slums, his sister said. "That's the way he is: totally devoted to the mission of a priest; he is the pastor of the least," said Maria Elena Bergoglio.
The youngest of five, Maria Elena, sixty-five, is the pope's only surviving sibling, said a report in Avvenire, on March 19. She told the newspaper that she and her brother are extremely close, which she attributes to their parents' emphasis on the "the value of love."
"We've always had a very close relationship despite the twelve-year age difference. I was the youngest and Jorge al- ways pampered and protected me," she said. "Every time I had a problem, I'd go running to him, and he was always there." Even though his ministry and duties kept her brother busy, the siblings spoke by phone every week, she said.
"Jorge taught me to always be there for people, to always be welcoming, even if it meant sacrificing something," Maria Elena said.
She said she named her firstborn son Jorge, "in honor of my special brother." He also became the child's godfather. The pope's nephew, Jorge, thirty-seven, told the paper that his uncle "is someone who is very open, we talk about every- thing, long talks."
Maria Elena said the media has been reporting on her brother's love of tango, opera, and soccer, but that very few people know he is an excellent cook. "He makes fantastic stuffed calamari; it's his favorite dish," she said.
She said she and her family stayed home in Ituzaingo, near Buenos Aires, to watch the pope's inaugural Mass on television out of respect for his public request that Argen- tines give to the poor the money they would have spent on airfare to be at the Mass in Rome. "We are near him in prayer," she said.
When her brother called her after his election, she "wasn't able to say a thing," because she was so overwhelmed with emotion, she said. "He just kept repeating, 'Don't worry, I'm fine, pray for me.' "
Just hours after Francis's dramatic election, an Italian journalist in Rome said one of the first things he did was call her up for a friendly chat. "The phone rang. . . . My son picked it up and it was the pope," Stefania Falasca, a former editor for the Catholic monthly 30 Giorni, told Italian media. "At home we just called him 'father,' we never called him
'eminence,' " she said. "I didn't know what to say. I asked him, 'Father, what am I meant to call you? Holy Father?'
"He laughed and he told me: 'The first phone call I wanted to make was to say hello to you, Gianni, and the kids,' " she said. Falasca is married to Gianni Valente, who was also a journalist with 30 Giorni and now works with the Vatican's Agenzia Fides, a news agency and part of the Con- gregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
A few days later, Pope Francis surprised the owner of a kiosk in Buenos Aires with a call to explain that he would no longer need a morning paper delivered each day.
Around 1:30 p.m. local time on March 18, Daniel Del Regno, the kiosk owner's son, answered the phone and heard a voice say, "Hi, Daniel, it's Cardinal Jorge." He thought that maybe a friend who knew that the former archbishop of Buenos Aires bought the newspaper from them every day was pulling a prank on him.
"Seriously, it's Jorge Bergoglio, I'm calling you from Rome," the pope insisted.
"I was in shock, I broke down in tears and didn't know what to say," Del Regno told the Argentine daily La Nacion. "He thanked me for delivering the paper all this time and sent best wishes to my family."
Del Regno said that when Cardinal Bergoglio left for the conclave, he'd asked the cardinal if he thought he would be elected pope. "He answered me, 'That is too hot to touch. See you in twenty days, keep delivering the paper.' And the rest is, well, history," Del Regno said.
"I told him to take care and that I would miss him. I asked him if there would ever be the chance to see him here again. He said that for the time being that would be very dif- ficult, but that he would always be with us."
Before hanging up the phone, he added, the pope asked him for his prayers.
On March 19, the thousands of people who were spend- ing a sleepless night in the main square of Buenos Aires, Plaza de Mayo, to watch the Mass inaugurating former arch- bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio's Petrine ministry had a pleas- ant surprise. At 7:32 a.m. Rome time-that is, 3:32 a.m. in Argentina-the speakers placed outside the cathedral began to carry the voice of Pope Francis. He was calling from the Vatican to greet them.
As reported by the Argentine newspaper Clarin, the pope had called the cell phone of Father Alejandro Russo, rec- tor of the cathedral. From the archdiocesan television center, they were able to connect the call to the Plaza de Mayo. Shortly afterward, those gathered began to hear Francis's voice. "Dear sons and daughters, I know you have gathered in the square. I know that you are saying prayers, I need them very much. We all walk united," he said. "We take care of each other, and continue to pray for me."
Once again, he was asking for prayers for himself. And then he explained why.
"To pray," he continued, "is so beautiful. It means look- ing to heaven and to our heart. We know that we have a good Father who is God."
Looking to heaven and to our heart. This brief definition of the meaning of prayer sums up the mind of the new pope, which moves from the most sublime things-heaven, the eternal, the absolute, the true, the good, the beautiful-to the most simple, down-to-earth things-the things in the human heart. The first is the realm that transcends all that we do, the realm that is not yet here but that we long for, hope for. The second is the realm of our most intimate pri- vacy, the core of our being, the source of our identity, and of our hopes. And for Pope Francis, prayer connects these two realms. The furthest out, and the furthest in. And to pray, to bring about this "communion" between what is furthest out and furthest in, is radiant, he tells us.
It is an aesthetic judgment. To pray, he is telling us, be- fore it is good, or true, or effective, or powerful, is "beautiful." And he says this because he knows the human heart, the human soul, is made to be drawn toward the beautiful, as a sunflower turns toward the sun, following it from dawn until dusk.
A huge roar of applause greeted the pope's words, and he continued: "I want to ask a favor of you. I want to ask for us to walk together, to care for one another, for you to care for each other. Do not cause harm. Protect life. Protect the fam- ily; protect nature; protect the young; protect the elderly. Let there not be hatred or fighting. Put aside envy."
And, in the city's slang, he added: "No le saquen el cuero a nadie" (literally, "Don't flay or skin anyone alive," that is, don't gossip, don't criticize one another). Talk with one an- other so that this desire to protect each other might grow in your hearts. And draw near to God. God is good. He always forgives and understands. Do not be afraid of him. Draw near to him and may the Virgin bless you. May she, as a mother, protect you. Please do not forget this bishop who is far away but who loves you very much. Pray for me!
"Through the intercession of Mary, ever Virgin, and each of your guardian angels, the glorious patriarch St. Joseph,
St. Therese of the Child Jesus, and each of your protector saints, may God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless you," Francis concluded.
We had in these words already the essentials of the pro- gram he would outline in a sermon in his early days as pope: protect the family, don't break it apart; protect our natural world, don't poison it; protect children, don't expose them to violence, don't harm them; protect the elderly, don't aban- don them, respect them.
The residents of the area of Buenos Aires where Bergoglio was born and grew up, called porteños, describe Pope Francis as kind, outspoken, and a good administrator.
Oscar Justo, sixty, regularly begs for bills and coins on a perch next to St. Joseph Parish in Barrio de Flores. As Car- dinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis passed by often, walking from the bus stop or surfacing from a nearby sub- way station. But he always took time to greet Justo, offer a blessing, and provide a few pesos. "He always gave me some- thing . . . sometimes a hundred pesos [twenty dollars]," said Justo, who lost both legs in a railway accident.
Such stories of his kindness abound in Buenos Aires, where Pope Francis was archbishop for fifteen years. Porteños came to know Pope Francis as an unpretentious prelate.
Cardinal Bergoglio criticized the late president Nés- tor Kirchner and President Cristina Fernández de Kirch- ner, who succeeded her husband in 2007, and their way of doing politics-building patronage groups instead of al- leviating poverty, he alleged. They responded by going to other churches for important ceremonies. "They went off to the provinces . . . where there was a more friendly church," said José María Poirier, director of the Catholic magazine El Criterio, who has interviewed Pope Francis frequently over the years.
"Here in Buenos Aires, he was a man politically at odds with the government, very much loved by the poor and mem- bers of the opposition. . . . But, fundamentally, he's a pastor and political man," Poirier said. "Bergoglio is very demand- ing. . . . He demanded a lot of discipline and obedience. He also considered himself a privileged interpreter of St. Igna- tius of Loyola, and this caused controversy," said Poirier. "Half [of the Jesuits] liked him a lot, but half wanted noth- ing to do with him."
Gabriel Castelli, a member of the board of directors at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, said the new pope "always had the ability to say what he thinks."
He put a priority on providing attention to his priests. He had a cell phone reserved just for his nearly four thousand diocesan priests, and each morning he set aside one hour to take their calls. "He was very committed to his priests, which is difficult with such a large archdiocese," Castelli said.
Priests had to keep their parishes in order, Poirier said. Many in the Church, like Poirier, speak of the former cardinal's administrative skills in Buenos Aires. "He's not an in- tellectual [like Pope Benedict], rather a man of government, with great political and administrative abilities," Poirier said.
Poirier said Pope Francis preferred the shanties to high society; he never dined out or went to parties; he read voraciously. He especially liked Latin American literature and Dostoyevsky novels. He did not use a computer or e-mail and listened to games of his favorite soccer team, San Lorenzo, on the radio.
He returned often to Barrio de Flores, to St. Joseph Parish, where he was scheduled to celebrate Mass on Palm
Sunday. At St. Joseph, parishioners shared memories.
"He always carried his own bags," recalled Zaira Sanchez, seventy-two. After Mass, "people would wait outside and he would bless all of them and talk to them" before leaving on public transit, she said.
He took time for causes, too-such as Fundación Al- ameda, which sought support from Cardinal Bergoglio for its efforts against the exploitation of migrants working in Argentina. The foundation's director, Olga Cruz, knew the then cardinal previously-he baptized both her children, who were not infants, after she asked him personally. "He said it would be an honor," recalled Cruz, a native of Bolivia.
Pope Francis embraced the migrants' cause, making pub- lic statements and celebrating Mass for the foundation. "He told me, 'Don't be afraid' . . . that I can confront this," Cruz told Catholic News Service. She also recalled him coming at a moment's notice to provide spiritual and moral support for women rescued from the sex trade, who were sometimes sheltered in parishes.
Parishioners at St. Joseph showed mixed emotions about Pope Francis having to leave Argentina for a higher calling. "Once he got to know you, he knew you for life," said Gloria Koen, seventy-three. "Unfortunately, we had to share him with the world."
Top Customer Reviews
Dr Moynihan's book PRAY FOR ME is an account of the first few weeks of the pontificate of our dear Holy Father, Pope Francis. It delves a bit into the pope's family history, the history of his education, his time as bishop and cardinal archbishop in Buenos Aires; but the preponderant emphasis is on the beginning of Francis' reign as pope. The reader gets a flavour for the humility of the current Bishop of Rome, and the almost universally high esteem in which he is held.
Pope Francis reveres his predecessors, both immediate (Benedict) and penultimate (John Paul). There is a moving passage in which we hear Cardinal Bergoglio (Francis) describe seeing Blessed John Paul in prayer: "And the time drifted away, and I began to imagine the young priest, the seminarian, the poet, the worker, the child from Wadowice ... in the same position in which knelt at that moment, reciting Ave Maria after Ave Maria. His witness struck me."
I cannot recommend Dr Moynihan's book highly enough, for the insight it gives into the mind and heart of our Holy Father, and for the moving recapitulation of those immensely grace-filled first few weeks of the current pontificate. Bravo!
I highly recommend this text to all catholic and non-catholics alike. The humility of this pope grabs one's christian heart. His teachings, to date, make us more aware of the reality of satan's evil work in our world that can only be solved through prayer to the one true triune God.
Please pray for Pope Francis.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Well, very spiritual and how devoted they are to do good and transmit it including Benedict XVI. Also the importance of who and where the Blessed Virgin Mother stands since the... Read morePublished 22 months ago by zahira olga melendez
After the election of Pope Francis, I (like much of the world) had no idea who this man was. While people speculated, a small number of books came out to help with our... Read morePublished on May 21, 2014 by Kim
Pray for Me: The Life and Spiritual Vision of Pope Francis, First Pope of the Americas by Robert Moynihan
This book was provided to me free of charge as part of the... Read more
I admire the newly appointed Pope and was anxious to learn more about him. This book covered his life and journey to the papacy and his first 6 months in office. Read morePublished on February 18, 2014 by Marilyn Gibbs
Pray For Me is a unique opportunity to get to know Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now and forever to be known as Pope Francis. Read morePublished on February 15, 2014 by Erika