The author’s personal journey to find out whether the new pope is “the real deal” and thereby get in closer touch with his own Catholicism.
Son of Sargent Shriver, whom he wrote about in his memoir, A Good Man (2012), and president of Save the Children Action Network in Washington, D.C., Shriver traveled to Buenos Aires and elsewhere to speak with former colleagues and acquaintances of Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, to get a sense of his long spiritual journey. Having been schooled by the Jesuits in Ignatius of Loyola’s creed to “go forth and set the world on fire for the Lord,” Shriver hoped his largely anecdotal memoir would help enrich his own faith. Born in 1936 to a family of Italian immigrants in the Flores barrio of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio was raised under his devout Catholic grandmother at the height of the “cultural earthquake” of Peronismo in Argentina. Surprisingly, Bergoglio studied science, which gave the pope, in the words of another Argentine theologian and Jesuit, “a strong sense of reality, of the superiority of experience over ideas.” Shriver visited the humble confessional in the Basilica of San José de Flores, where the 16-year-old Bergoglio heard the voice of God, changing his life’s direction in September 1953. The author pursues Bergoglio’s early years in the Society of Jesus, where he developed a reputation as an authoritarian and disciplinarian, which stood in contrast to a greater opening and tolerance in the church. In Latin America, this would play out as Marxist-inspired liberation theology during the tumultuous Dirty War in Argentina, when Bergoglio served as novice master and then climbed the clergy ranks at a time of enormous confusion and deception. Whatever the truth, Shriver layers on accolades from Bergoglio’s admirers over the years, alternating with stories of the author’s own father and faith.
Excerpts from Bergoglio’s writings give an even more intimate look at our current pope, although it’s unfortunate Shriver was unable to interview him.