Find the Pope; Find Yourself

Find the Pope; Find Yourself December 16, 2016

A pilgrim goes to a place that contains some spiritual sentiment—like Rome, Mecca or Bethlehem. A “successful” pilgrim learns 1.) that the journey itself is really the destination; 2.) that although a pilgrimage is a serious spiritual endeavor, it has elements of a vacation; 3.) that although the pilgrim travels alone, she or he is really keeping company with all those who have trod this path or another; 4.) that although the pilgrim seeks personal insight, nothing really occurs until she or he gives the pilgrimage away to family and friends back home.

Mark Shriver, the younger brother of Maria Shriver at NBC, is an executive for an international child welfare organization, Save the Children. He formerly was a Maryland legislator. Shriver is now the author of Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis (Random House, 2016).
As this century began, Shriver became frustrated with and even embarrassed by leadership in the Catholic church. And for Shriver, like with many U.S. Catholics, his opinion of Catholic leaders influences his Christianity. Like other thoughtful Catholics, Shriver is enraged by our bishops’ scandalous mismanagement of wayward personnel. (Any bishop who thinks the scandal has played out or any bishop who thinks he is not part of the scandal should read Shriver’s admission of his wrong thoughts about avenging abused children.) Thus, while many welcomed the March 2013 election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as pope, Shriver remained skeptical, unconvinced, distant and disillusioned. However, Shriver wanted to change. And so, Shriver made a pilgrimage to see if Pope Francis is the real deal, and more importantly to get insight into his own cloudy faith.
The pilgrimage takes him to Argentina. Shriver shares his journey under several themes. First, Bergoglio is a child of Italian immigrants. He is, Shriver details, influenced by his late grandmother’s Italian piety and by the childhood security of an extended immigrant family. Second, Bergoglio also has a lifelong interest in science. He studied it and he was a chemistry lab assistant. Third, Bergoglio was influence by the Peron movement in Argentinean politics—Juan Peron (1895-1974), his second wife Eva (1919-1952), their followers and their opponents. Finally, Shriver devotes many paragraphs to the Jesuit influences in Bergoglio’s story.

Shriver has great connections, allowing him to interview people from Bergoglio’s neighborhood and from his Buenos Aires diocese, plus some U.S. Catholic leaders. The book is at its best in the Argentinean villas where Shriver meets some inspiring priests and pastoral workers and where he finds a leader of what we in Chicago call junkers, people who collect scrap metal and other salable trash. It is here that Shriver confronts an important question: Is his work on behalf of vulnerable children too sanitized? Is there a possibility that non-profit executives are marketing disabling help? Is it a better expression of Christianity to simply live alongside the vulnerable in a barrio or similar setting?
Shriver’s Pilgrimage is not a biography of Pope Francis as such because it does not go very deep into Francis/Jesuit politics or Francis/Argentinean politics or Francis/Curia politics and the like. It is rather, like Shriver’s previous book about his father Sargent Shriver (1915-2011), a memoir structured around Shriver’s own journey.

A full Christian life must look toward the world as God intends it to be yet simultaneously holding the tension with the world as it really is. There is in this book heavy emphasis on the world as we would like it to be. Out of character for a seasoned politician, Shriver comes across as doe-eyed in his encounters. So again, as a biography Pilgrimage is only a primer. But as a memoir it is a gift to us, particularly those of us who have temporarily lost the idealistic potential of Catholicism. Maybe Pope Francis and people like Mark Shriver can get Catholicism refocused on its mission and can stir up enchantment within those of us who want to believe and make a difference.
More of us might try making a pilgrimage. Not necessarily to another continent. Maybe go to one’s place of baptism. Maybe go to an ancestral neighborhood. Maybe go to a designated shrine. (There are, for example, a handful of shrines here in Chicago; a couple of them are close to an el station.) Go somewhere with purpose; stay disposed to insight; upon return give it away.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629) a print newsletter about faith and work.

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