“A return home, a trip with his ‘family’ that filled his heart with happiness,” is how Msgr. Guillermo Karcher, Papal Master of Ceremonies and among the Holy Father’s closest collaborators, spoke to ZENIT on the Pontiff’s intense trip to Latin America. Eight days of visits in the dioceses of Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, going in a few hours from over 2,000 meters of altitude down to sea level.
“Diverse territories, diverse heights … but the Pope held up very well. More than that, I know that many journalists did not feel very well; instead, the Holy Father gave example,” affirmed the Argentine Monsignor. He immediately added that the Pope “lived this apostolic journey with great trust in the Lord, certain that He accompanied him at every step.”
This enabled him to carry out a tour de force, without showing signs of yielding and of returning satisfied, because “he was able to express himself as he wished, in his language, with all its nuances, and he gave the messages designed to illuminate the diverse realities of this great South American family.” In fact, Msgr. Karcher confirmed, the Pope “returned with his heart full of joy. The first words he said to me were: ‘I truly bless the Lord.’”
And such was Francis’ satisfaction that he did not even want to take some rest, but began to work already on the morning of July 14. “Today also he continued to work. He hasn’t stopped for a second. I thought: perhaps the fall would come later, because the enthusiasm of the first day … Instead, no. Among other things, he is already preparing his next trip to Cuba and the United States in September,” he said.
“So the Pope is not going on vacation?” — we asked. “No, he is having a ‘half vacation a la Bergoglio,” affirmed the Monsignor. “The concept of vacation doesn’t exist for him. He had one once as a young Jesuit to Cordoba, then never again. For his standard, vacation is only to diminish his rhythm somewhat …”
On the other hand, a year of fire awaits the Pontiff: the October Synod, the meetings with the Council of Cardinals for the Reform of the Curia, the opening of the Year of Mercy on December 8. All after his big trip from September 19-28, which will take him first to Cuba, then to Washington, New York and Philadelphia.
A trip that is longer and perhaps more arduous than that to South America, but to which he is bound, which according to Msgr. Karcher, is “a great embrace of the American Continent.” In Cuba, moreover, Francis “will find a reality similar” to that of Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, and in the United States he will also meet with the Latino community. Therefore, he will have the occasion to reiterate his strong appeals in favor of the poor, the weak, and the socially marginalized categories.
However, he will also be able to “elaborate new concepts,” said the Papal Master of Ceremonies, beginning with “studying” the middle class, as he assured in that “humble and beautiful answer” given during the press conference on the plane. “If in Latin America his attention was dedicated to the poor, now the Pope will be able to enlighten people that work, that pay taxes, that have to support a family …”
Beyond the expectations, “we allow the Holy Father his surprises,” Msgr. Karcher added. “We know how ‘creative’ he is in the evangelical sense. Wherever he goes, he seeks a message of reconciliation, of building the future …”
And how do you, his collaborators, live this creativity? “I’m used to it, I know him ‘very’ well, as you say in Italy (he laughs) …However, I think that it’s always good to see a person that seeks in every way to have a message understood, because we are in a society in which information rains on us, where we move as robots, without time to elaborate, to reflect …”
Therefore, the Pope makes use of a “poetic art,” made of gestures, of phrases for effect, of ‘neologisms,’ to have a message penetrate our hearts too. What message? “Many,” affirms Monsignor Karcher. First of all the exhortation to the Church to be a “house of hospitality,” a concept confirmed many times in his discourses in Latin America. “For him the fact of not excluding anyone is taken for granted, but he realizes that sometimes some can close their heart. Therefore, his call is to evangelize the heart first, then the rest.”
Then he wants a “Church that follows the people,” as he stressed in his monumental address to the Popular Movements in Bolivia, especially the poor, which is almost an obsession in the Pope’s Magisterium. “He has it at heart because he knows that Jesus came to rescue the poor, the least,” stressed the Monsignor, but also because “the reality of the poor is one that Pope Francis knows well. He knows that of which he speaks. He ‘vibrates’ in front of these people, because he took them on his shoulders when, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he faced the cruel reality of the crisis in Argentina in 2001, which made a world collapse, which put so many people on the street, without work, without goods …”
The risk on which the Pope puts us on guard today is that, as in Argentina, “these people will end up in anonymity — be discarded by society. His call to the Church and to the world is: Look, these people exist and have so much to offer because they are part of the fabric of society,” explained Monsignor Karcher.
An address that is not only valid for Latin America. Those who “accuse the Pope of being too ‘localized’ to the problems of his Continent, evidently have not opened their eyes,” he said. “The ‘First World’ is also full of poor, ‘discarded’ people. There is a great contrast between a part of society that considers itself advanced, developed in every technology and comfort, and people that suffer.” Hence this explains the Pope’s constant reference to certain concepts, as well as the often explicit denunciation of “the economy that kills,” the “ideological colonizations,” a “system that idolizes money.”
“I believe he is a ‘corrective’ Pope, in the sense that he is a Pope that wants to improve” things, affirmed one of his closest collaborators. “That there is an economy that kills, and an idolatrous and ideological system is a fact. We can’t deny it. And not only does the Pope make it evident, but he exhorts not to take everything for granted, not to regard what we have as perfect: it can be corrected, it can be improved. And it can be done with the awareness that the Beatitudes, the Gospel in general give, which indicate the correct way of living.
Pointed out also among the Pope’s appeals in the three Latin American countries are those for the defense of the family and of women. “Today the family is attacked on more fronts, including a society and a policy that do not offer guarantees at the educational, health level … Therefore, the Pope is calling States to offer these guarantees to the family, which is the first cell of society,” explained the Papal Master of Ceremonies. For women, Francis gave the example of the Paraguayan woman — strong women who were able to raise again the fortunes of a country close to disappearing — to demonstrate her true value, to remember that we must render her a courageous protagonist. Because it is futile to fight for the same rights if then woman, who is mother, wife, grandmother, a figure that we cannot do without, continues to be ‘discarded’ in some countries.”
“I can assert that the Pope is a man of conciliation and reconciliation,” stressed finally Monsignor Karcher. “For him, no one must be discarded — not people, not gifts of doubtful taste, such as the crucifix on the sickle and hammer given to him by [Bolivian Pre
sident] Morales. “I spoke to him about it the following day. He repeated what he said on the plane: everything is read in its historic context, we need a hermeneutic. Initially, that was a shock. I myself thought: but what happened? Then I reflected. After all, if we go around Rome all the obelisks have a cross on top. Each one can draw his own conclusions.”