Saturday, November 30, 2013

A new biography of Pope Francis hailed in Argentina

Pope FrancisA new biography of Pope Francis, based on primary sources and testimonies, is being praised in Argentina by people who know him as the most complete and authoritative portrait of him in any language to-date.

Hundreds of people crowded into one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world, the Ateneo Grand Splendid in the heart of Buenos Aires, on November 19, for the presentation of “Francisco: Vida y Revolucion” (Francis: life and revolution), the new biography of Pope Francis, written by Elisabetta Piqué, an Argentinean journalist who has known him since 2001. 

Her book is being hailed by many who knew Bergoglio here as the most complete and authoritative portrait of him in any language to-date.

“This book is based on solid research, and written from the heart”,  Father Mariano Fazio, former Rector of the Santa Croce (Opus Dei) university in Rome, told the large audience that included the Papal Nuncio to Argentina, Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig, who, the book reveals,  enjoyed a better relationship with Cardinal Bergoglio, than did his predecessor.  

Rich in testimonies from Jesuits and laity, including many poor people whom he helped, the 332 page book written by the Rome correspondent of La Nacion, one of Argentina’s main dailies, is being published simultaneously in Spanish (by El Ateneo) and Italian (by Lindau), and negotiations are under way for its release in other languages too.

Fazio said it communicates well “key aspects of Bergoglio’s spirituality” and “the humility of the man” who, in countless hitherto unknown ways, helped the most needy in society and saved many lives during the military dictatorship.  He was one of a panel of 5 that presented this page-turner book which offers many new insights into the personality of the first Jesuit Pope,  provides an accurate history of his life as a Jesuit and bishop, and reveals hitherto unknown information about the conclave that elected him, as well as reporting on the first six months of his pontificate.

On the panel with Fazio were Rabbi Abraham Skorka,  a close friend of Bergoglio who expects to travel with him to the Holy Land in 2014,  Professor Julio Barbaro, the renowned historian of Peronism, and Father Gustavo Carrara, the ‘vicar’ appointed by Cardinal Bergoglio to oversee the Church’s mission to the slum-dwellings of this metropolis of almost 12 million people.

“This very fine book has enriched me because even though I thought I knew Bergoglio and his spirituality, on reading it, I discovered many new things hitherto unknown to me”,  Rabbi Skorka said.  He praised the author for writing a highly readable book, “rich with testimonies” of  many people from different walks of life who knew him, which shows clearly  that he is “a man truly committed to dialogue.”  

“This is a biography marked by lucidity and passion”, Julio Barbaro told the overflow audience on the second floor of this magnificent former theatre and cinema. He highlighted the faith-centered leadership given by Bergoglio during the turbulent and bloody period in Argentina’s history immediately before and during the military dictatorship, and recalled how he rejected both ideologies and  repression, and showed that “the faith is stronger than ideology”.  

Barbaro, who was a friend of both Argentina’s former president - Nestor Kirchner, and Bergoglio, said “Kirchner’s problem was not with Bergoglio as such, it was with whatever he could not control”.  He praised the book for bringing out Bergoglio’s “striking spirituality” and his ‘revindication of faith over ideology”.

Father Gustavo Carrara warmly welcomed the new biography that devotes a whole chapter to Bergoglio’s inspiring and courageous ministry in the “villas miserias” or slum districts  of this metropolis where some 250,000 people live, 43 % of them under the age of 17.  He recalled Bergoglio as “a pilgrim bishop who walked among the people, especially among the most needy and the last in society”,  and called the city’s believing communities, including those in the slums, to be “a missionary Church”, and ‘go out to the existential peripheries”. 

Bergoglio highly valued ‘popular piety” and reminded everyone that frequently “people who are poor in this world are rich in faith”,  Carrara said. 

He recalled the intense emotion and rejoicing in the villas di miserias when he was elected Pope,  and the powerful impact on them when Francis appeared for the first time, dressed in white, on the central balcony of St Peter’s and humbly asked people to pray for their new bishop.  

Bergoglio always told his priests and people that “if you take the Gospel seriously, your life will become more complicated”, Carrara said, “And if we take Francis seriously, he will complicate our lives too!”

Responding to questions at the end of the book-presentation, Elisabetta Piquè confirmed that while Pope Francis knew she was writing the book, she had never involved him in any way in the project because she felt this was not proper, also given that she was touching such delicate questions as his relationship to the Roman Curia before becoming Pope.

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