Bergoglio Prior to Being Francis: 'The Pastor Who Preaches Looking in the Eyes'

Presentation of Father Antonio Spadaro’s book which gathers 14 years of addresses of the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires

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The Pastor who made a cloth devil burst forth with firecrackers to have his catecheses understood by restless catechism youngsters; the Bishop who encouraged catechists and educators to communicate the joy of evangelizing, Evangelii Gaudium; the Cardinal who on the feast of Saint Cajetan challenged the political class in Buenos Aires to fight against the elite sick with ideology and who supported the population’s struggle for bread and work. The whole done always with a very precise “style”: looking straight into the eyes of the people listening to his preaching “because there must be nothing between the preacher and the people.” Not pre-packaged papers or texts but a direct dialogue, as Saint Ignatius taught.
It is a new face of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, which emerges from the volume “Nei Tuoi Occhi e La Mia Parola,” edited by Father Antonio Spadaro, Director of “La Civiltà Cattolica.” Yet in the more than 1,000 pages that make up the volume, one can make out clearly the features of him who today is Pope Francis.
Published by Rizzoli, the book brings together more than 200 homilies, messages and addresses of the Cardinal who for 14 years (1999-2013) was at the head of the Buenos Aires megalopolis and who, in the designs of Providence, was preparing to become Pope. However, it is not an anthology but rather an Opera Omnia of the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, useful “to understand the ecclesial season that we are living,” as the curator himself explained during the presentation of the book on Thursday in the Jesuits’ General Curia.
Present at the event was Cardinal-designate Blaise Cupich, archbishop of Chicago; the new Superior General of the Jesuits, Father Arturo Sosa; and the former Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, now president of the Ratzinger Foundation. The guest of honor was the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, who affirmed: “The reader who approaches the volume “Nei tuoi occhi e la mia parola” can imagine not only a Bishop who goes on foot or on the metro through the streets of his city and of his diocese, but who can be see him in perspective while he appears at Saint Peter’s loggia of blessings.”
The book, in fact, covers all the main subjects of Bergoglio’s teaching, developed, however, in a rigorous chronological, not thematic, order because, said Father Spadaro, “it would have been like taking living, spring material and caging it.” Neither as Pope or as Archbishop does Francis ”ever speak by argument, but from experience lived by contact with the people.”
And it is in fact this direct thread that Bergolgio has always liked to establish with anyone who listens to his preaching, which is the aspect that this “big volume” highlights in the main, as Father Lombardi described it jokingly.
In the unpublished interview, left by his initiative to Father Spadaro, the Pontiff himself reveals especially for the book (“a Preface would have been too static,” explained the Jesuit): “When in the Seminary we were taught Homiletics I already felt a strong aversion for written papers in which everything is said. And I remember this well. I was and am convinced that there must be nothing between the preacher and the people of God. There cannot be a paper, meticulous writing yes, but not everything.”
Also today as Pope, often “constrained” to read his homilies, “I continue to seek the eyes of the people. Also here in Saint Peter’s Square. When I greet the masses, I don’t see them as masses: I try to look at least at one person, a precise face.” This justifies so many off-the-cuff addresses: “I have this impulse to leave the text, to look in the eyes,” says the Pontiff. And he also confesses his “weakness” for the elderly: “Sometimes I have the desire to descend from the popemobile. It often happens in front of old ladies. I have a weakness for little old ladies, especially those that are clever. They speak to you with their eyes.”
“Francis never sees a mass before him nor can he fix his eyes on a sheet of paper,” confirmed Cardinal Parolin, who described the volume as “the laboratory of Francis’ pontificate.” A Pope, he stressed, “that has placed at the center of his ministry discernment and mercy,” and who today “is considered one of the major moral and spiritual leaders of the world, perhaps the most listened to at the global level, as a recent Gallop poll indicated.”
It must be because his words “are not pastoral exercises, school reflections or meditations sheltered from the world,” but “are nourished by a lived life, by open questions, borders crossed, peripheries traversed, challenges that have faces and names.” Every phrase, said the Secretary of State, is born “from his silence as a Jesuit who contemplates and acts,” who “reads God’s message in events” and who then translates them in that “dense, poetic and popular language that we well know.”
It is an altogether “Ignatian” method, but useful to any Pastor heading today a great metropolis. Therefore, Cardinal-designate Cupich said he was “profoundly grateful” for the contribution offered by the book: “It is a lesson of wisdom,” he said, “it is a support for the episcopal ministry.” In particular, the future Cardinal singled out five pastoral models that delineate Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s teaching. “Formators and reformers,” he explained, interested namely in helping priests, educators, catechists to fulfill their mission without  “shutting themselves in the perimeter of the sacristy” or falling into bureaucracy or an administrative mentality. Then “prophetic heralds of justice and life” who show “ a way of social involvement that does not politicize the Gospel but lets the Lord’s salt, light and leaven speak for themselves.”
Also: “servants of ecclesial communion,” or Bishops that do not limit themselves to be ”docents” but learn from the wisdom of the local and universal Church. Hence men who “smell the scent” of the people themselves and “preservers of the Gospel of Christ who find God in their service” and “do not separate pastoral action from spiritual contemplation.”
For his part Father Arturo Sosa, elected last month Superior General of the Society of Jesus, revealed the aspect of Francis’ “universality,” “the first and perhaps last Jesuit pope of history.” His religious experience, united to his “pastoral practice” in the heart of Argentina, “trained” him to become a “broadminded” Pontiff but also capable of looking at the individual, he said.
“His preaching is a form of spiritual conversation,” said Father Sosa, which is rooted in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, who affirmed: “You can preach only if you look at people in the face, their problems, their situations, their life.” A preaching devoid of populisms but certain that “to preach to the people it is necessary to be part of their identity made up of social and cultural bonds.” A preaching that is inspired in great literature, Dostoyevsky primarily, and that is also “political” because, as Francis himself affirms in the interview, “every homily is political, a way of contributing to the formation of the people as subjects of the country and of the Church.”

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Salvatore Cernuzio

Crotone, Italy Bachelor's degree in Communication Sciences, Information and Marketing (2008) and Master's degree in Publishing and Journalism (2010) from LUMSA University of Rome. Vatican Radio. Rome Seven. "Ecclesia in Urbe. Social Communications Office of the Vicariate of Rome. Second place in the Youth category of the second edition of the Giuseppe De Carli Prize for religious information.

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