Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Unusual Pope, Unusual Man

I have been reading about Pope Francis, and the more I read, the more I admire the man.

Nello Scavo’s book, Bergoglio’s List (Saint Benedict Press, 2013), focuses on the time of the so-called “Dirty War” (Guerra Sucia) in Argentina when, between 1974 and 1983,  the military took control of  the government and  hunted down, imprisoned and executed any person or group deemed to be dissident.

Jorge Bergoglio, ordained a priest in 1969, was serving as provincial superior of the Jesuits in Argentina when the military junta’s reign-of-terror was at its height. In 1976  two Jesuit priests (Orlando Yorio and  Franz Jalics), who had been working in the slums of Buenos Aires, were arrested by the military, tortured and held for five months.

Father Bergoglio was criticized by dissidents and many of his fellow Jesuits for not doing enough to free the two captives, and some accused him of collaborating with the regime. A document in the files of the Argentine authorities of that time led some to conclude that Bergoglio was sympathetic to the military junta. It says, “Despite the good will of Father Bergoglio, the Argentine Company (code for “Jesuits”) has not cleaned house.”

The expression “good will” confirmed for some critics that  Bergoglio failed to resist the terrorism, to protest the arrest and torture of his own men. Several have failed to analyze how “not cleaned house” is to be interpreted.

When Adolfo Maria Perez Esquivel, the Argentine social activist who won the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize for human rights activism and for denouncing military abuses, was asked about Bergoglio, he responded, “There were clergymen who were accomplices of the dictatorship, but Bergoglio was not one of them.”

In 2010, before his election to the papacy, Archbishop Bergoglio had testified that he had indeed met with General Jorge Videla, senior commander of the Argentine Army and dictator of Argentina from 1976-1981, and requested the release of his two priests.

Informed of Bergoglio’s testimony, the elderly former captive Franz Jalics responded, “I am reconciled to those events, and for me the issue is closed.” In 2013 Jalics again answered a question about the criticism of Bergoglio, and he explained that “it is false to believe that our arrest took place due to the instigations of Father Bergoglio. Orlando Yorio and I were not denounced by Bergoglio.”

Several thousand people simply disappeared during the “Dirty War,” but information is now forthcoming that perhaps 100 or more were rescued by none other than Father Bergoglio. Author Nello Scavo’s book was titled Bergoglio’s List in imitation of another famous rescuer, Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who saved the lives of several hundred Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.

When Gonzalo Mosca saw Pope Francis standing before the crowd in St Peter’s Square he decided to tell his story about how Father Bergoglio had secretly arranged for his escape from Argentina in 1977. When Alicia Oliveira’s life was threatened she appealed to Father Bergoglio for help, and he found a way to keep her in hiding, even arranging for her to meet with her small children.

I have come to believe that there is a wisdom in Papa Francesco which comes not from books but from experience. He can be blunt and he can be diplomatic. He can speak out and also knows when to keep quiet. He has lived in a very real world, and is sensitive to those in need.

As new information comes out, the accusations against Bergoglio fail the litmus test. He acknowledges his failures, especially in his term as provincial leading the reform of the Jesuits after Vatican II. He responds to the question “Who is Jorge Bergoglio?” with “I am a sinner.”

But it is clear to me that we have a wise and gentle man in the office of St. Peter. He knows how to get things done, even if others around him misunderstand. I like Cardinal Walter Kasper’s title for his new book on the Holy Father –he titled it Pope Francis’ Revolution of Tenderness and Love  (Paulist Press, 2015).

Austen Ivereigh calls his biography The Great Reformer (Henry Holt and Company, 2014).
Our Sunday Visitor has compiled A Year of Mercy with Pope Francis – Daily Reflections (2014). Loyola Press published The Church of Mercy by Pope Francis, A Vision for the Church (2014). Pope Francis –His Life in His Own Words (G. P. Putnam) is a reprint of the 2010 publication El Jesuita – Conversaciones con Jorge Bergoglio.

Chris Lowney has written Pope Francis – Why He Leads the Way He Leads (Loyola Press, 2013).Matthew Bunson wrote Pope Francis (Our Sunday Visitor, 2013). Mario Escobar published Francis – Man of Prayer (Thomas Nelson, 2013). Paul Vallely authored Pope Francis – Untying the Knots (Bloomsbury, 2013).

These titles are but a few of the books available on this unusual pope, unusual man. Pray for his protection and good health.

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