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Pope Francis speaking with de mayors of the world in the summit in the Sinodo room. 21 july 2015

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INTERVIEW: California Governor Says Francis Is a ‘Breakthrough’

Jerry Brown Also Shares How Catholic Formation Gives Him Ability to See Hope in Midst of Darkness

The governor of California says the simplicity and example of Pope Francis expresses the Catholic ideal.

Governor Jerry Brown made this point and discussed the Pope’s impact on Catholics and non-Catholics alike when he spoke on Wednesday with ZENIT. The governor was attending a two-day workshop at the Vatican, entitled, “Modern Slavery and Climate Change: A Commitment of the Cities,” organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. 

Governor Brown, who possesses a Jesuit formation from his years at seminary considering a priestly vocation, speaks about how faith gives hope in the midst of tough times, and about the impact of the Pope confronting the world’s most pressing issues, such as the environment.

In addition to explaining how the Holy Father is calling leaders to action, Governor Brown discusses the US papal trip in September, the canonization of Junípero Serra, and where he thinks he might run into the Pontiff again.

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ZENIT: Could you speak a little bit about your view of Pope Francis up until this point, your overall impression, particularly of his leadership?

Governor Brown: I would say he is very much expressing the Jesuit spirit, which has counseled its members to live as ordinary men and not extravagant and also to recognize the principle which in Latin is expressed by Tantum Quantum (Tantum: so much, so much that you need to do … How much you need to do.) [Tantum Quantum is the Latin proverb meaning ‘So much as.’ The term is in St. Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises referring to the right use of creatures: ‘We are to use them in so far as [tantum quantum] they lead us to our last end, and be rid of them in so far as [tantum quantum] they hinder us in the pursuit of the end for which we were created.’] 

So that’s a statement of balance and also of restraint and also of doing everything you need to do, but not doing more than you need to do. And I think the simplicity and example of Pope Francis expresses that Jesuit training that he had, which expresses the Catholic ideal as well. In addition, he’s taking on the world’s big issue which is climate change and the suffering of vulnerable people all over the world. I mean over a billion people don’t have access to clean water. Billions of others aren’t living that great of a life, although it’s hard to tell since so many people live in so many different circumstances. But the Pope is speaking to the world as it is.

He is calling upon leaders to take action. As he said yesterday, he has strong hope that decisive action will be taken in Paris and that a consensus for the common good and for dealing with climate and dealing with the most vulnerable will seriously be addressed. So that’s very impressive.

It’s really a breakthrough where Francis is talking about ecology. I don’t know that ecology has ever been in an encyclical before. And he’s talking about human beings being connected to everything else, and being a part of nature and therefore obligated to respect nature not only as theological imperative but as part of an intelligent way of being in the world. He spoke yesterday of a rebound. The way I interpret that is somewhat like how St. Paul said in Galatians, ‘God is mocked, whatever a man sews, that also should he reap.’ So if we sew an excessive amount of fossil fuels, the fish will die and the fisheries will go extinct, and the weather will become unpredictable, extreme, and in many cases unlivable.

So the Pope is calling us to the awareness that whatever our thoughts are, we are physically a part of the natural world and we have to treat it with respect and take care of it or it will not take care of us.

ZENIT: Governor, you are Catholic, correct.

Governor Brown: Yes, I am a baptized Catholic… I studied to be a Jesuit priest. You can’t get in unless you’re a Catholic. [chuckling].

ZENIT: In reaching where you are, could you reflect on how your faith has helped you or helps you as you face a variety of challenges as governor of California. How does your faith strengthen you?

Governor Brown: Well I would say that the formation that I’ve undergone growing up in the Catholic faith, in the Catholic religion, puts forth a world that is orderly, that has purpose and ultimately is positive. And that is very helpful when you look at a world that looks very much the opposite … the wars, the corruption, the breakdown. Even though from an intellectual point of view it looks very dark, in another sense I have great faith and confidence that there’s a way forward. And I would attribute that, in some way, to my Catholic upbringing and training. I went to grammar school with Dominican nuns from their mother house in Michigan. I went to a Jesuit high school in San Francisco, a Jesuit University, University of Santa Clara, and then I entered the Society of Jesus … spent about three and a half years there.

ZENIT: Could you speak about Pope Francis’ visit to the States in September and particularly what it means to the people of California given the canonization of Bl. Junípero Serra​?

Governor Brown: Well, I think there is an excitement more than any other Pope in my lifetime … Not only are Catholics enthusiastic, but a number of non-Catholics respond to the message of Francis because he is so human, projecting all this simplicity in the midst of all the power and elegance of the papacy. So I think that has given a lot of excitement and attention to Catholics and [those who are] not members of the Catholic Church.

As far as Junípero Serra, I think a lot of the faithful are excited. There are some of those who aren’t excited. Some activists. But I would say a huge number of the people of California will take great note of the canonization of Junípero Serra. And I think that will be a very positive thing.

ZENIT: Will you be able to go to the East Coast during the Pope’s visit?

Governor Brown: Well, I’ll be on the East Coast. I believe … at the UN meeting. Seems likely.

About Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is a Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in four languages). She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, at times from the papal flight, and has done television and radio commentary, including for Vatican Radio and BBC. She is a contributor to National Catholic Register, UK Catholic Herald, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside the Vatican, and other Catholic news outlets. She has also collaborated with the Vatican in various projects, including an internship at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and is a collaborator with NBC Universal, NBC News, Euronews, EWTN and Salt & Light. For 'The Other Francis': https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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