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POPE FRANCIS: UNTYING THE KNOTS – PAUL VALLELY

I came to reading this book not being much of a fan of the Roman hierarchy. However, I read with a growing admiration for the new pontiff and a desire to understand what leads a man like him into being elected to that role.

What I found, as with all great men, was a controversial man. This is due to his conduct and that of the church during Argentina’s Dirty War, a time of horrific violence at the hands of the Argentine military death squads.

The book charts the life of Bergolio, from infancy through a childhood where he was deeply influenced by his grandmother’s faith, to adolescence, the birth of vocation, life as a Jesuit, academic, bishop, archbishop, cardinal and now Pope. No punches are pulled. He had leadership thrust on him at an extremely young age, he was made Jesuit provincial in his mid-thirties. Mistakes were made; pain and upset were caused in his attempt to preserve a pre-Vatican II style church. When he completed his term as provincial, he was sent into a sort of exile as the book elucidates.

What emerged from this time of ‘humility and humiliation’ was a very different man. He had looked into his own heart and listened for the voice of Jesus. Now the enemy of liberation theology had been transfigured into a humble friend of the poor, ‘Bishop of the Slums’, making enemies in political and conservative Catholic circles.

This book was not thrown together in haste to tell us about the new kid on the block. Rather it is a thoughtful, balanced and thorough investigation of the Pope who styles himself after the Little Poor Man of Assisi. Pope Francis is a work in progress, like St Francis was and just like you and I.

One interesting aspect of the book that demands much thought and consideration concerns questions about the overlap of religion and culture. What can appear on the surface as mere superstition is actually a source of genuine devotion. To add another layer to these questions, there is the whole question of Liberation Theology and the role for instance that Marian devotion can play in the outworking of this theology as a source of hope for the poor and oppressed.

I remain not much of a fan of the Roman hierarchy, rather a huge admirer of the leader of the Roman Catholic Church: a fearless man of prayer and action. I heartily commend this book to anybody interested in this man or indeed stories of redemption and renewal. You will find a man of conservative values with no dogmatic approaches; a man formed and reformed in the crucible of love and pain; a man of zeal but a huge amount of compassion; a man to lead the Roman Catholic Church into a new chapter in its history.

Michael Jacob nSSF