Pope Francis: The Pope from the End of the Earth, by Thomas J. Craughwell. Saint Benedict Press, April 2013.

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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.

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Nation by Terry Pratchett

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Nation by Terry Pratchett

My rating: A+ (Superlative!)

By way of introduction, let’s blame all of this on Julie Davis, the indefatigable contributor to the Catholic Writer’s Guild blog. Along the way, Julie described a Young Adult novel, Farmer in the Sky (1953) by Robert A. Heinlein that aroused my curiosity. Since then I’ve read other Heinlein books and began a discussion with the local librarian who just happens to love science fiction. She brought me to the dark corner, under the stairs where the sci-fi books, wrapped in brown paper, reside, carefully guarded by live snakes, spiders and the occasional gargoyle. Through her informed enthusiasm, she personally introduced me to the work of Terry Pratchett. I’m currently Pratchett-binging.

Pratchett’s Nation tightly weaves living “story” vines so every thought touch all the others. Maybe Nation is a romance novel? It’s certainly a love story and for sure a deeply spiritual adventure. It may not answer the universal spiritual questions, but powerfully asks them: Does God exist? How can God permit evil? What is God like? What is the purpose and efficacy of prayer?

Terry Pratchett’s Young Adult novel introduces numbers 139 and 140 in line of succession to the British throne. The drama intensifies as numbers 1-138 quickly meet their untimely deaths. Fortunately, 139 and 140 are relatively safe if you ignore the mutiny, tsunami, shipwreck, abandonment on a devastated island, cannibals and an upbringing that prevents 140 (Daphne) from doing anything practical, although she’s quite the student of 19th Century Science and sees it as the preferred alternative to religion. You might say she’s a proper nob lass with a ton of baggage, not the least of which was the earlier loss of her mother and newborn brother and the domination of herself and her father (139) by her paternal grandmother. Daphne’s propriety extends to her wearing both pantaloons and unmentionables beneath her grass skirt, and of course the cleanest blouse she could manage under the circumstances.

Mau, the Pacific Islander, like Daphne, loses his entire family and community while they await the completion of his coming of age mission. Trapped with neither a boy’s nor a man’s soul, Locaha, the god of death, worshiped by the head-hunting cannibals, chases after Mau. The ghosts of Mau’s Grandfathers haunt the incomplete and untrained Mau, urging him to restore spiritual order. He’s angry with his nagging ancestors and the divine power that allowed such destruction. Fate brings Mau, the clever survivor together with the “ghost girl” (Daphne). They soon save each other’s lives, find ways of communicating and deepening their mutual affection. Daphne is sensitive to the ghostly voices of Mau’s Grandmothers, who share a message totally different from that of Mau’s Grandfathers. The question arises: Can the successor to the British Crown find happiness with a “primitive” islander? In reality, Mau is no less a royal than Daphne. He is the Nation.

Mau and Daphne grow as other survivors arrive along with their problems. Mau finds milk for a starving infant on an island with none of the usual sources of milk, and lives to tell about it. Daphne delivers babies. Following directions in the wrecked ship’s medical manual she saws off a man’s shattered leg below the knee and dips the stump into a bucket of hot tar. Mau asks, “Didn’t that hurt?” Daphne shrugged, “Not if you lift the bucket by the handle.” Mercifully, Mrs. Gurgle, a balding, wrinkled, toothless elder crouching in a dark corner is well versed in herbal pharmacology and anesthesiology.

The thrilling climax features the wonders of pharmacological dark magic, the strategy of David versus Goliath, “honor among cannibals,” if not Europeans, the revelation of the primacy of the Nation and a diplomatic coup that allows the Nation to dodge assimilation while enjoying an affiliation with the British Empire. Daphne graciously accepts a compliment from a cannibal under-chief. He told her she is so bright that he’d love to eat her brain. Mau and Daphne face painful decisions that test their mutual love, growth, maturity and sense of duty.

Nation succeeds as a Young Adult novel while reaching out to the older audience. Young adults Mau and Daphne grow through confrontation with real-life problems. They maintain remarkable focus, honesty, generosity and most importantly, self-sacrifice for the good of the Nation. Members of every generation should stand as tall. The reader learns with them as Terry Pratchett weaves in references to history, literature, astronomy, geography, geology, anthropology and especially biology. The antics of a sea-captain’s iconoclastic parrot and such exotic species as the beer-drinking, upchucking pantaloon bird and the legendary tree octopus (not to be confused with the North American species (Octopus aborishoaxiensis) continue to amaze, chapter after chapter.