“Journeying with Pope Francis”
Immediately, directly, intuitively: this is how the message of Pope Francis touches people. His ability to communicate is rooted in a pastoral experience that naturally tends to create authentic relationships. His authority is never expressed rigidly, as if spoken by a statue. Rather, his personality flows into the people with whom he is speaking.
This volume gathers some of the conversations that Francis has had with Jesuits during his apostolic journeys. It is clear how the pope tunes into the appropriate wavelength for each group. You can see it in his approach, in his greeting and body position. Francis relaxes with the Jesuits; he feels at home. Ever since his very first papal trip to Brazil, whenever possible, Francis has enjoyed meeting the Jesuits of the country he is visiting. That encounter can take various forms: a mass, a personal greeting for a group, a dialogue… Obviously, these are “private” words, not meant for widespread circulation. Following the pontiff on his apostolic trips, I have always joined in these meetings. I record his words with my smartphone, transcribe them and then hand them to Francis so that he can read them. If he thinks it opportune, he approves them for publication in La Civiltà Cattolica.
His manner of speech here is very relaxed, fraternal and spontaneous. Personal experience shows me that these conversations are always an echo of the ongoing visit. Sometimes they even provide a key to interpret each visit through the pope’s own experience. In fact, apostolic voyages follow strict timetables without space for reflection. So these encounters with the Jesuits are often a time for the pope to say what he perceives about the journey, his first reflections and emotions.
His teaching is very powerful and his words allow us to better understand things that can still be deduced from other aspects of his pontificate: Bergoglio is to be understood on a voyage. You have to consider the path he follows while he is progressing. And what is wonderful about these conversations is that they are documents in a state of development. They do not have the (necessary) rigidity of a concluding text. In this sense, the conversation is a form of expression that is particularly in line with the dynamic forms of this pontificate. In some way or other there is always the “background noise” of life. Doubt is not deposed by cold clarity; it requires a message that is effectively understandable.
We should also highlight the fact that, in such a free manner, the pope has given, or reemphasized, specific missions for the Society of Jesus. In particular, the task of teaching “discernment.”
If I had to give as a witness my own account of these conversations, I would have trouble summarizing them. I have always felt a great sense of normality, of things being natural, and yet also of observing an erupting volcano. These are two contrasting emotions that cannot be separated in journeying with Francis. I trust that the reader will be pulled into this dynamic, generative “calm chaos.”
Antonio Spadaro, SJ
Director of La Civiltà Cattolica