New book collects memories of Pope Francis from Argentina

Denver, Colo., Oct 2, 2013 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- A new book on the Holy Father gathers insights and recollections from 20 people across Argentina who knew Pope Francis as a seminarian, priest and bishop in Buenos Aires.

“A Pope who is constantly surprising people with his gestures, words and teachings comes from somewhere, has a background,” said editor and translator Alejandro Bermudez, “and that's what the book tries to explore.”

“Pope Francis: Our Brother, Our Friend” (Ignatius Press) records personal recollections from twenty individuals who personally knew the man who became Pope Francis.

Shortly after Buenos Aires Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope in March, Bermudez – who heads both Catholic News Agency and ACI Prensa, the largest Catholic news provider in Spanish – traveled to Argentina to conduct interviews with those who had personally known the Holy Father.

The result, Bermudez explained, is “the mosaic of a complex, rich personality that can help us understand the concerns, the experiences, the convictions and spiritual motivations behind the decisions and style of Pope Francis.”

The book offers memories and reflections through the eyes of 10 Jesuits who lived close to Pope Francis in Argentina – as peers, professors or those receiving spiritual direction from then-Fr. Bergoglio.

These accounts are enriched by the testimony of 10 other individuals who knew the Pope, Bermudez explained, “from a prestigious politician to a lowly beggar, from a rabbi to a priest working in the slums.”

Fr. Ángel Rossi, S.J., who was a student of then-Fr. Bergoglio and is now superior of the Residencia Jesuita community in Córdoba, described the Pope as “a very skillful man.”

“I say that he is a mix between a desert saint and a brilliant manager, a combination that normally isn’t very common,” the priest explained in the book.

“He is a man with great intelligence, and also with academic and scholarly intelligence, but above all I think of that special perception which previously the monks used to call the ‘cardiognosis’: the gift of knowing peoples’ hearts.”

A 62-year-old beggar in Buenos Aires said that Fr. Bergoglio “cared for me, he cared for us, he knew all of us.”

He recounted how Pope Francis, as a priest and later as a bishop and cardinal, would ask for prayers.

“I always liked to greet him because he always gave a smile. He never greeted seriously or in a bad mood,” the beggar recalled, adding, “We miss him here.”

“He was a person who went from giving spiritual assistance to someone, to speaking on the phone with a bishop or some important person, to washing clothes in the laundry or to the kitchen or where they raised the hogs,” said Fr. Fernando Cervera, S.J., whose spiritual advisor was then-Fr. Bergoglio.

He added that the Pope had been very involved with the students in the classroom as well.

José María Poirier, director of the Catholic magazine “Criterio,” said that as a cardinal, Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the publication’s 80th anniversary and told the staff members to “be on the cultural frontiers, do not expect the intellectuals to come to you; you be the ones going out to meet the non-religious intellectuals, the non-Catholics and non-Christians.”

The great “paradox” of Pope Francis, said Poirier, was that despite his tremendous work with the poor of Buenos Aires and his contributions to interreligious dialogue, he consciously chose to keep such a low profile that “he was almost invisible in the eyes of the city.”

“Pope Francis: Our Brother, Our Friend” is now available in English from Ignatius Press.

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