This slim volume is part of Crossroad's Pope Francis Resource Library but it is not a compilation of Jorge Mario Bergoglio's writings. Instead, Jesuit Fr. Diego Fares walks us through some themes of Bergoglio's writings, drawing occasionally on them with short excerpts. The volume acts as an introductory conversation for readers; some might be satisfied with just these tidbits, but others might consider them a prolegomenon to the Bergoglian sense of dialogue that has long been at the heart of his ministry.
While the book is a good size and price for parish study groups, a moderator might want to choose carefully from its chapters of quite uneven length. Its concluding study guide is appealing and asks questions under two headings: “for reflection and sharing” and “for prayer and practice.” The first three chapters draw from Bergoglio's years as a Jesuit superior, which is when Fares first met the future pope more than forty years ago, an encounter that marked the start of what is a deep and even worshipful friendship, given the volume's entirely positive tone. A fourth chapter concentrates on Bergoglio's leadership as archbishop of Buenos Aires, with the final three chapters (the last two comprising a total of five pages) focusing on his time so far as pope. The two meatiest chapters are the longer ones. Chapters 3 and 5 deal with Bergoglio's inclusive and expansive ecclesiology of the church as the people of God, witnessing to the great and refreshing confidence this pope has for Catholics in the parishes and pews.
Several underlying themes in this volume might be explored further by readers or parish study groups. First is the Ignatian notion that the church is in a time of consolation, as Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro in his foreword quotes Fares as saying explicitly—although Francis’ opponents would likely disagree. It is worth wondering where Pope John XXIII's conception of Vatican II as a new Pentecost fits into a notion of consolation in light of this quite Vatican II-style papacy around the time of the council's fiftieth anniversary. Second, Bergoglio is clearly influenced in his reform thought by Yves Congar and Paul VI. During one talk, Bergoglio remembered slogging through his Denzinger as a student, but also learning the critical importance of listening to God's people, of learning from their devotions, and of considering always the impact of church actions on what he calls with respect and affection God's faithful people. Fares tell us that Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi (1976) was, in the future pope's estimation, “a particularly inspired document” (29); we hear echoes of Paul throughout Francis’ writings, including his Evangelii Gaudium (2013). There is important work to be done uncovering the specific influence of Congar and Paul VI on Bergoglio's development and especially his papacy (grad students: take note). Third, in 2009, Cardinal Bergoglio warned his clergy against an “isolated conscience” that prevents encounter and dialogue: “Whoever holds his conscience apart from the path of God's holy people undergoes a metamorphosis of distance, a turning inward” (44). It is easy to identify in this quotation the words that Bergoglio is reliably reported to have said in the general congregation of cardinals before the conclave of 2013, which eventually elected him. According to notes that the new pope approved to be shared, Cardinal Bergoglio in his single intervention criticized a church that turns in upon itself and keeps Jesus locked inside (Vatican Radio transcript, March 27, 2013). Clerical narcissism, hypocrisy, and arrogance are the result of self-absorbed church leaders. This short introduction to Pope Francis provides a few insights into why he fights these tendencies so furiously.