B is for…Benedict XVI
The first person to know of the election of Francis was Benedict XVI. The first telephone call that the new pope made was to the Pope Emeritus.
Likewise, the first prayer that Francis requested as he stood on the balcony of St. Peter’s was for Benedict.
At their meeting at Castel Gandolfo on March 23, 2013, the two men embraced. I was struck by the fact that, when addressing his predecessor, Bergoglio used the respectful Lei when addressing Ratzinger in Italian (rather than the familiar tu used between close friends and family).
There is harmony and continuity between the two men.
If you want an example, read this: “Careerism, the attempt to climb upwards, to obtain a position by way of the Church, to be served, not to serve: this is the image of a man who, by way of the priesthood, wants to make himself important, to become a person of note; this is the image of someone who has his sights set on his own exaltation and not on the humble service of Jesus Christ.”
Who said these strong words that cut like a sword? Are they the words of Pope Francis, who has often spoken about careerism in the Church and about worldly spirituality?
No. The words quoted above are those of Benedict XVI. Ratzinger opened up the way for Bergoglio in all senses, not just by his resignation, but also by his pontificate. Resigning was both courageous and full of drama.
Benedict XVI was subjected to harsh criticism for it. He often found himself alone. The Pope Emeritus displayed great personal courage.
B Is for…Birthday
Pope Francis was born on December 17, 1936. But if you are thinking of giving him a present, you should know that he does not want to be the focus of the celebration.
To be sure he is a joyful man, but he prefers going to celebrations that honor others.
B is for…Books
Jorge Bergoglio prefers classic literary works such as those by Manzoni, Dostoevsky, Dante, and Borges. In the school year 1964–1965 the future Father Bergoglio taught literature at the Immaculate Conception College at Santa Fe.
The students of the time recall this young man very well. Not yet a priest, he was passionate about literature. His superiors had asked him to become a teacher of a subject from among the humanities, even though he had studied the sciences.
The students also recall vividly the day on which Bergoglio announced to the class, more surprised than proud, that Jorge Luis Borges had accepted an invitation to come to meet them. This great writer stayed with the students for five days.
They were some of the most fortunate students in history: There before them at one and the same time was one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century…and the future pope.
It is evening. Father Bergoglio has just finished celebrating Mass in a parish, and the concluding procession has come to an end. People are gathered in the sacristy, to put the sacred vestments back in place.
“Excuse me,” says Bergoglio to the people all around him who are winding down, the day’s tasks completed. “Excuse me, but I have to go to Mataderos. Does anyone know which bus I need to take?”
All of a sudden, they all fall silent. Should they simply answer his question, or overcome the problem by offering the archbishop a ride? “There is no need for the bus,” says one enterprising parishioner, stepping forward. “I will give you a lift in my car.”
“No, thank you,” says Archbishop Bergoglio. “I’m only asking you to tell me which bus I need to take from here.” “Allow me,” says another parishioner. “I will take you. Mataderos is on the other side of the city and it is awkward by bus.”
“No.” Bergoglio shakes his head with emphasis. “Thank you. Just tell me which bus it is.”
A third and a fourth gentleman, almost in chorus, say: “We insist, Father. We will take you. We can’t let you go on your own.” This time the response is commanding: “I said no, my sons. I am going by bus.”
“Very good,” they all respond, a little embarrassed. A little later, with fond words of thanks and farewell, Bergoglio makes his way on his own toward the bus stop, and on to another of the day’s appointments.
One young girl comments: “He certainly never stops.” And the parish priest says: “He goes as he came, on public transport.” The deacon adds: “Father Bergoglio is like that; he speaks by giving example.”
The bus comes. Bergoglio gets on. At Mataderos they are waiting for him.
C is for…Children’s Feast
Manuel slides out of bed, no need to be woken up. “Manuel, I bet it’s today, isn’t it?”
“Bergoglio’s feast day.”
“How do you know that, mum?”
Teresita knows her nine-year-old son only too well. She knows that there is only one day in the year when she does not have to blast him awake with a shout.
That day is the day of the Children’s Feast, Father Bergoglio’s pastoral masterpiece for children. It was a feast for children who had no knowledge of feasts or presents or sweet drinks and the like because these children lived on the mud roads and slept in huts.
Father Bergoglio always handled the event himself, and it used to light up the suburb. It was a very poor suburb around the Maximo College and St. Joseph Parish, in the diocese of St. Michael (Colegio Máximo de San José, San Miguel). The whole parish was invaded.
At least five thousand children always turned up. It was a feast for them—prepared just for them. And if you have any experience of children and of parishes, you will agree that five thousand is not an easy number of children to manage.
What was it like?
There was the theater with adventure stories of the great figures of the faith. The best-loved story was about the Jesuit missionaries on their way through the forest.
The story of St. Ignatius also went down splendidly. There were also popular games and football. There were moments of prayer, catechetical groups, and naturally lunch. But the key moment that every child eagerly anticipated was the time for receiving presents.
The moments before they were able to hold their present in their own hands gave them a thrilling, almost uncontainable joy that ran right through the children from their heads right down to their feet.
Suddenly, rolled into one celebration, were their Christmas, their Epiphany, their birthday, their saint’s day, and their Santa Lucia. Indeed for many of the children the Children’s Feast was the only gift-giving occasion in the whole year.
Without Bergoglio, there wouldn’t have been even that.
This blog is from Pope Francis Takes the Bus and Other Unexpected Stories by Rosario Carello. Click below for some free sample chapters.