'Saint Francis of Assisi by Artist Jusepe de Ribera via Wikimedia Commons

In His Footsteps

Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s pontificate asks “What is God showing us or asking us to change?" For Guzmán Carriquiry, Secretary of Latin America's Pontifical Commission, the Pope is a continual surprise. Here, we retrace and foresee the Pope's steps.
Davide Perillo

Casa Santa Marta. One can better understand Francis from there, looking at the “continuous flow of life and wonder” that, through the unscripted homilies in the chapel where the Pope says Mass every morning, reaches “many people who would never have imagined that they would be struck by a Pope.” These are the words of Guzmán Carriquiry, age 69, married with four children, a Uruguayan lawyer who was transplanted to Rome in 1971, when Paul VI called on him to work in the Curia. For twenty years, he was Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity; for the past three years, he has served as Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. He has known Jorge Mario Bergoglio for a long time–but even for him, Pope Francis’ first year has been one of continual surprises.

What have been the most important moments of the past year with the Pope?
It would take a while to list them–it has been a year of unprecedented density and intensity. The first, extremely beautiful appearance on the loggia of St. Peter’s, right after his election, comes to mind; the immediate and unexpected choice to live in the Casa Santa Marta; World Youth Day in Copacabana; his encounter with the migrants–living and dead!–in Lampedusa; the visit to Assisi. And then, the creation of the council of eight cardinals to help him in the reform of the Curia, the interview with Fr. Spadaro, Evangelii Gaudium... However, all that said, I think that the most important moments were the morning homilies. This day-by-day teaching–a Gospel sine glossa –is a precious treasure. It reaches everyone.

Is there something in particular that caught you unawares in these months?
The rapidity of the passage from a tense, dramatic, and, to some degree, dark moment like the last period suffered by the holy and wise man that is Benedict XVI, to the atmosphere of joy that the new Pope has engendered. It is surprising, because it was almost immediate: a Church under siege for months–and then, all of a sudden, this turning point. It makes me think of Benedict XVI’s words: “We do not lead the Church; not even the Pope leads the Church. It is God who leads it.”

But did you expect sudden changes?
Knowing him, I did expect them a little bit. But what we are living exceeds every expectation. He is an unpredictable Pope. Not by chance does he ask us to be open to the surprises of God, above and beyond our material, spiritual, and even ecclesiastical certainties. The real question that every single believer should ask himself today is: What is God asking of us? What is He showing us? What is He asking us through the pontificate of Jorge Mario Bergoglio? Otherwise, the enthusiasm can remain sentimental. Joy is already a movement of the heart, of course. But it begs to be deepened.

There is a decisive point for him, which he often repeats: it is the necessity to return to the kerygma, to the heart of the proclamation. Why is this so urgent?
He says it well in Evangelii Gaudium, when he invites “all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting Him encounter them.” And when he repeats these words of Pope Benedict that lead to the heart of the Gospel: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est, 1). First of all, the urgency of putting the kerygma back at the center is what Jesus Himself gave us as an apostolic mandate, and this can be perceived in Peter’s first preaching. Then, the urgency comes from the fact that the Church, in its wandering, feels the need to return always to the heart of the proclamation, which is the source of every reform. What is more, in Francis there is the firm and joyful conviction that “Christian truth is attractive and persuasive because it responds to the profound need of human life.” Finally, it is urgent because the radicality of the Gospel is necessary: although, in a de-Christianized world, it can become a sign of contradiction, it knows how to reach hearts with an inconceivable newness.

The consequence is the call to witness. If faith is an attraction, then it is transmitted first and foremost through witnesses, not discourses...
I remember that Bergoglio was very struck when Pope Benedict, in the homily of the inaugural Mass of the Conference of Latin American Bishops in Aparecida in 2007, said that faith is not transmitted by proselytism, but by means of attraction. Francis has revisited this point many times, starting from his first great programmatic speech, to the Brazilian bishops. We need a Church that, “abandoning all spiritual worldliness,” leaves more room for the mystery of God, because “only the beauty of God can attract. He awakens in us a desire to keep Him and His life in our homes, in our hearts. He reawakens in us a desire to call our neighbors in order to make known His beauty.” What is mission, if not the communication of the gift of the encounter with Christ? When people encounter a true Christian witness, “they feel the need that the Prophet Zachariah spoke of: ‘We want to come with you.’” We certainly need a Church that, in its life, renders Christ’s presence luminous, despite the opacity of its own limits. But this is the second crucial question that he poses to each of us in Evangelii Gaudium: How much, and how, do you make His presence transparent in your reality?

Where, instead, does his insistence on poverty, on a Church that is “poor and for the poor,” originate?
John XXIII had already said it, right before Vatican II: “The Church presents itself with what it is and what it wants to be, as everyone’s Church and particularly as the Church of the poor.” But this evangelical dimension did not really take shape in the conciliar event, because the Europe of the economic boom, at the time, still weighed heavily on it. I think that the Latin American Church has made a great contribution to the whole Church by taking up again, in teaching and in life, this essential connotation of the Gospel, which is always present in tradition. We see this awareness concretely in Francis: when he washes feet in the juvenile detention center in Rome, when he visits Lampedusa, in his gestures of tenderness for the sick... It is the Gospel, lived. The Pope always repeats that this is the attitude of the disciple, that is, of the witness of a God who, being rich, becomes poor to an incredible extent. It is in the mystery of Christ, in His Incarnation, that love for the poor is founded. Without this foundation, it degenerates into a moralistic reduction of the Christian fact. The Church becomes “a charitable NGO,” as the Pope reminds us. Or it ends up falling prey to political ideologies.

It seems that the only condition required to come to terms with Francis’ radical announcement is precisely poverty of spirit–a loyalty to one’s own need and “wounded humanity.” And it is a possibility for anyone, above and beyond cultural positions, preconceptions, or ideologies...
I think that the Pope would agree. Indeed, we are in a world of wounded. Just look around: indifference and confusion about the meaning of life, dissolution of the bonds of belonging, isolation, loneliness... The Pope’s announcement is an invitation to deepen the gaze on ourselves, without protective shields: we are victims of our self-sufficiency, of selfishness and pride; slaves of the idolatries of money, power, ephemeral pleasure, and intellectualism without wisdom. We are all creatures wounded by life, and therefore needy–always seeking, expecting, with the agitation of a heart that is never satisfied... Above all, we need a gaze full of mercy–like the one experienced by the Pope himself when he defines himself as a “sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” Thus, he proposes the Church as a “field hospital,” in which the best medicine for the wounds of the soul is mercy. And then, you see, this Pope has a heart open to those who are distant. He looks at the 99 sheep who have strayed, and not the only one left in the fold. He asks us to go out, to go to meet them. Many Christians react like the older brother of the prodigal son, and they stiffen. But he seeks those who are distant. And he knows that he must embrace them with great merciful love, without preventive discriminations–not even from the moral point of view.

Another issue is the controversy over “non-negotiable values.” The Pope is catching many people off guard, even among Christians, with his call to the “ultimate” proclamation, which comes before the “penultimate” truths. Christ comes before values. Many people accuse him of surrendering to the world. Is this really the case?
No, it is not! It was the media campaigns, the work of various lobbies, and the discussion of proposed laws regarding life and family that were trotted out everywhere, that caused the Church’s statements about “non-negotiable values” to become perhaps too frequent and to take up too much of the foreground. We have run the risk of projecting an image of a Church that is more preoccupied with principles and laws than with the care of souls. The Pope started with this preoccupation: if one wants to attract people to God, then he cannot start from the “no”s–and not even from those “no”s taken for granted in a Church that is aware that it cannot negotiate anything substantial in doctrine. But then, there is also a certain strategy to this. He is talking about these themes month after month, more and more forcefully. If you look at how many times, say, he has defended life, you will find very strong expressions: in front of the ambassadors, for example, he spoke of the “horror of abortion.” And he repeats this often. Discernment always entails knowing when to talk and how to talk, according to the context. He can now talk forcefully about any subject, even one that provokes resistance, because he cannot be attacked as a restorer.

What judgment can you make on these first steps in the reform of the structure of the Church? What direction will it take, in your opinion?
Francis loves to recall often the response of Mother Teresa of Calcutta to the journalist who asked her where to begin the reform of the Church: “From me and from you!” He is reforming the Church in capite et in membris, in the institution and in the people. There is no real reform without a current of holiness, or without conversion. The Pope is asking this of us.