Pope Francis: From the End of Earth to Rome

Marc Chagall’s 1938 “White Crucifixion”

With Pope Francis (Papa Francisco) visiting Santa Cruz this week, I have been thinking about the Catholic church and his work in the church. I was raised in a devout Catholic family so know much about the church. I read the perfect book to coincide with his visit. “Pope Francis: From the End of the Earth to Rome” by the staff of the Wall Street Journal. The electronic book was about 200 pages, more than a cover story in the paper, but less than an exhaustive biography. It gave me the perfect amount of information I wanted about his life, his beliefs, how he became pope and the future of the Catholic church. I highly recommend it.

The citizens of Santa Cruz went a bit crazy for the pope’s visit. I think in part because the city is up and coming and someone of his stature coming to visit here was a novelty, in part the strength of the catholic church in Latin America and finally, Pope Francis is a charismatic leader who champions the cause of the poor and is from neighboring Argentina. The president declared a national holiday yesterday in honor of his visit.

Mario Bergoglio is from Buenos Aires Argentina, the son of Italian immigrants. Like many immigrants to the Americas from Europe, his family was fleeing poverty in between the wars of Europe. The thing that impresses me most about his career in the church as a priest and bishop, is his dedication to the poor. He is a Jesuit, the largest order of over 17,000 priests, and they are known as the “foot soldiers” of the church, going out into the community. Father Bergoglio worked in the worst neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, helping single mothers, drug addicts, gang members, etc. For someone to devote their life to the service of others, especially the most downtrodden in our society, is something to be admired. It makes me inspired to do more for the poor. It is also essential for humanity to be focused on income inequality. I certainly saw it in Los Angeles and it is even more dramatic here in Santa Cruz.

When he became pope, he has continued faithful to his beliefs, getting rid of the ceremony and emperor-like trappings of being the pope. He lives in a simple apartment, dresses simply and takes public transport often. The Vatican has the economy of a mid-sized European country ($7.8 billion in assets).

I liked also that he was the rector of Colegio Maximo, Argentina’s top Jesuit school. Some of the priests complained that he brought in lay professors who were generally more conservative than many of the progressive Jesuits wanted. It is tough to be the head of school. I like his management style, personally being involved in many aspects of the church, tackling tough issues and dealing with the big problems of the church today and being accessible to all. This is what the catholics need in a leader. He also has many interests and is well-read and thoughtful.

The book discussed the future of the catholic church. In Europe and the USA, it is dying because of people are more secular due to high economic status and in my opinion, a more informed life with the rise of the internet. The catholic heartland is Latin America, where most everybody is catholic. The evangelical protestant churches, like the Seventh Day Adventists, the Mormons and others have made inroads here in Latin America, because they are more like the Jesuits. They deal with everyday lives and are out meeting people. This has gained them a following and several of Nadia’s friends are no longer Catholic, but have become evangelical.

I have a hard time believing in the dogma of the bible as an educated person, but I do believe in humanity and want to see social justice and the church can help in this area. I am much more liberal in thought than Pope Francis, who is center-right conservative, but we are in agreement to call for “health, food, education, housing and work guaranteed for all” and to fight rising income inequality. I think the church can grow and do a lot of good in this area.

It was interesting to read about his time as a priest during the Argentina military dictatorships of the 1970s. He is criticized for his lack of action towards the leaders, but it was a tough time and I am not sure how much he could have done. I would like to read more about this time in Argentina’s history.  The book also touched on the child abuse scandals of the church, and it didn’t put him in a good light in his handling of these situations. I don’t know enough about it to comment.

The new vocabulary I learned in reading the book, or words I want to use more often follow:

  • rector – the head of certain universities, colleges and schools
  • raconteur  – a person who tells anecdotes in a skillful way
  • catechism – a series of fixed questions, answers or precepts used for instruction in other situations
  • anathema – something or someone that one extremely dislikes; a formal curse denouncing a movement or excommunicating someone
  • ombudsman – person who investigates citizens’ complaints against a government/administration/organization