Pope Francis: The Pope from the End of the Earth, by Thomas J. Craughwell. Reviewed by Donald J. Mulcare
The church faithful and anyone aware of the constantly changing news need a readable, current and scholarly guidebook that will prepare the faithful to assist the new pope in his mission, while answering the questions of the curious. Those interested in current events might ask: What criteria guided the Cardinals as they chose Cardinal Bergoglio? How did he serve the Society of Jesus and the church in Argentina? How does he show his particular devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots? What is his interest in San Lorenzo de Alamgro? How has he built bridges with Evangelical Protestants, other Christian denominations, Jews and Muslims? How has the papal electoral process evolved? Why does the pope-elect change his name? Why use the Sistine Chapel? Thomas Craughwell’s book answers all of these questions and more.
Craughwell’s guidebook, replete with illustrations, is far more than a souvenir. Based on the biography of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the deliberations of the College of Cardinals, a starkly realistic view of the Universal Church and the overture to the papacy of Francis I, it maps the approach Pope Francis will likely take toward the current needs of the Catholic Church; it challenges the faithful to respond. In choosing the name of Francis of Assisi, the Pope-elect, accepted that saint’s vocation: “Francis, rebuild my church, which has fallen into ruins.” He chose this calling not only for himself but for all the faithful. Just as Saint Francis of Assisi changed the church and the world in his time, Francis I recruits the faithful to go out to the streets to heal the church and the world.
Craughwell paraphrases then-Cardinal Bergoglio’s pastoral approach to contemporary issues: The Church has to go out into the street to bring the gospel to the people rather than wait for the people to come to the Church. He then quotes Cardinal Bergoglio: “We need to avoid a spiritual sickness of a Church that is self-centered…. It is true that going out into the street…implies the risk of accidents…. But if the church remains closed in, self-centered, it will grow old. And if I had to choose between a bumpy Church that goes into the streets and a sick, self-centered Church, I would definitely choose the first one.”
As was his habit as a Cardinal, Francis I reaches out to the faithful. Although he is the Pope, he has emphasized his role as Bishop of Rome and considers himself to be the “parish priest” who welcomes members of the kitchen staff and Vatican employees to the 7:00 AM, weekday Mass in the chapel at Hotel Saint Martha in Vatican City. The idea of the Pope’s Holy Thursday washing of the feet of juvenile prison inmates didn’t begin this year in Rome. For many years, Cardinal Bergoglio left the Buenos Aries cathedral on Holy Thursday to celebrate Mass in prisons and hospitals.
Along with sharing these and other human interest stories, Craughwell notes that Cardinal Bergoglio had long fought against the materialism, secularism and relativism that have replaced the Gospel message in much of the world. In some countries, 90% of the population says it is Catholic, but only 20% actually practice Catholicism. Argentina actively discards the elderly, withdrawing health care while promoting clandestine euthanasia. This same government condemns child abuse, but permits some Five-star hotels in Buenos Aries to offer child prostitution as a form of entertainment.
Craughwell documents that throughout Latin America, since the time of Columbus the few have enriched themselves through the abuse and exploitation of the native people. When he was still a Cardinal, Francis denounced this abuse and the unjust accumulation of wealth. He has long shown himself a champion of social justice.
In 2010, then-Cardinal Bergoglio challenged the President of Argentina as she pushed legislation contrary to Christian teachings: “Let us not be naïve, this is not just a simple political battle; it represents an aspiration destructive to the plan of God. This is no mere legislation, but rather a maneuver by the Father of Lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God…. We need the Divine Advocate to defend us against the enchantment of such sophistry by which they try to justify this legislation and to confuse the people of good will.”
Craughwell adds: “Amid a raging sea of secularism and relativism, and a growing swell of anti-Christian sentiment, the Church stands upon that unyielding rock, given to the church by Christ himself.”
For years, Pope Francis has sought the Church’s lost sheep in the streets rather than passively waiting for them to make the first move. He still has to convince the church faithful that they are evangelists who must take a more active role in the mission of the church. He reminds the faithful that Jesus came to serve. He asks the faithful to serve each other, especially since Jesus calls them to “rebuild my church, which has fallen into ruins.” The faithful should expect to actively assist Pope Francis in his mission.
I highly recommend this book, to those who seek a complete and competent prospectus on the unfolding papacy of Pope Francis I. This developing news story will dominate the media for years. I especially recommend this book to anyone in the process of discerning her or his vocation; to those exposed to relativism and secularism in higher education or through their involvement in the worlds of commerce and government. It will encourage advocates of social justice and console those who have suffered from the influences of materialism. It provides substantial content for discussion groups and for personal meditation.