Walking the Path to Change with Pope Francis
Ahead of his visit to Ireland this month, The Path to Change, published today, gives a fascinating insight into the thinking and formation of Pope Francis. The book is based on a series of wide-ranging conversations between Francis and French journalist Dominique Wolton on everything from politics, migration and family to secularism, religion and war. It reveals Francis as a friendly, unpretentious and accessible figure, as he shares private stories which help explain how his experiences have shaped his vision for the future of the Catholic Church. In this extract, he shares his thoughts on communication - including the perils of surly parish secretaries and priests who are prescriptive about their availability to the people - and the humility of Pope John Paul II.
Pope Francis: But... something happened to me one Sunday when I was about to leave for the palace, for the Angelus.
A bishop comes to see me and he tells me he's brought in a little group of a hundred people who have come for a blessing, but I don't need to go to them, they're just there for a blessing.
At first, I thought, "If I do that blessing from a distance, I should do it like that" (gesture).
But then I went outside, and I saw the people waiting for me. That isn't theory, it isn't politics; it's a human need.
And, all of a sudden, they all came to touch me, the young people, their parents... They tried to take a photograph, a selfie.
And I didn't say a single word. In fact, I did say something to one of them, a 12-year-old boy who had a lovely T-shirt with the words, 'My mother always performs miracles, but with me she outdid herself'.
And I asked him, "Where's your mother?" And he said, "That's her." All of a sudden, we walked towards one another.
In the end, I had to establish a bit of order and say, "Let's do something, let's stand together, we'll take a photograph and then we'll say goodbye."
I really had to leave for the Angelus; I didn't have much time.
I explained the situation, and they understood. We prayed to the Madonna, a Hail Mary, a blessing, we said goodbye and I left.
You might ask, "But what catechesis did you give them?"
There cannot be a Church of Jesus Christ that is far from the people. The Church of Jesus Christ must be attached to the people, connected to people
I have no idea, but I think that catechesis must be given by a priest who is close to his people, who laughs with his people, who allows himself to be disturbed by his people.
And that's communication. I don't like it when I encounter a priest who has listed his times of availability in his parish church: 'From this time to this, from this time to this...'
And when the member of the congregation says, "All right, then," and they go at the time shown and, instead of finding a priest, they find a secretary, sometimes a rather surly one, who tells them the priest is too busy. That's anti- communication and anti-Gospel...
Dominique Wolton: Yes, that's true. Often, priests are so busy that they aren't available. You don't dare to speak to them. You have the impression that they're doing very important things when they're talking to God, obviously more important than we are...
Pope Francis: Jesus himself was very busy. And yet, when a man told him that his son or a servant, I can't remember which, was dead, and he asked him to heal him, Jesus said, "I'll come."
The man told him he didn't want to trouble him, but Jesus said, "No, I'll come."
When Jesus saw, by the gates of Naim, that a widow's only son was being buried, he went over, touched her and began to weep.
Then, he touched the child's coffin and performed a miracle. He approached.
And that's the conclusion I want to come to: there cannot be a Church of Jesus Christ that is far from the people.
The Church of Jesus Christ must be attached to the people, connected to people.
You can't communicate with pride. The only key that opens the door of communication is humility
The opposite would be to do as some politicians do - not all of them, let's not condemn them en masse - who are only interested in people during election campaigns and then forget about them after that.
And, for me, closeness, even in pastoral life, is the key to evangelisation. You can't evangelise without closeness.
I once heard a story, told to me by a layman who witnessed it: "A rich man had parted ways with his family, and lost all connection with them.
"Eventually, he was put in hospital with a terminal illness. In the bed next to him, there was another man, with the same illness.
"The chaplain came and talked to the other patient, but he couldn't get a word out of our man. Completely closed up, he didn't say a word to anybody.
"One day, the man in the next bed asked him to bring him the spittoon, and, for the first time, he got up and went to get it.
"Then the other man asked him to wash the spittoon. He went to the bathroom and washed it and brought it back.
"At that point, the man started feeling a sense of anxiety, a great anxiety... and he started talking to the nurses, to the others, as if this act of service, of closeness, of communication through the suffering flesh had opened a door for him.
"And, three days later, when the chaplain came back, our man called to him and started telling him about his life... I don't know what he said to the chaplain, but he asked him for Communion, and he died the same evening."
That story made me think about the parable of the eleventh hour, the parable of the workers in the vineyard.
How an act of closeness, a dirty and humble service performed for someone else opened his heart. It liberated him.
Here, I'm going to mention a historical thing that happened, involving communication.
In the Piazza del Risorgimento, there was a homeless Polish man who was often drunk, and he said he had been a fellow seminarian and fellow priest of John Paul II, and then he had left the priesthood.
No-one believed him. Someone mentioned this to John Paul II: "There's someone saying this and that."
And John Paul II said, "Well, ask him what his name is."
And it was true. "Bring him in."
They made him take a shower and presented him to the Pope.
And the Pope received him: "So, how are you?" And he hugged him.
He had basically abandoned the priesthood and run off with a woman. "So, how are you?"
And then eventually John Paul II looked at him. "My confessor was supposed to be coming today, but he's not here. Take my confession."
"What are you talking about?"
"Yes, yes, I give you permission." And he knelt down and confessed.
And then he did the same thing for his visitor, and the man ended up as chaplain at the hospital, helping the sick.
An act of closeness and humility. Another word comes to mind. I said selflessness, but it's humility.
You can't communicate with pride. The only key that opens the door of communication is humility.
Or at least a partial attitude of humility. You communicate as equals. You communicate upwards. But, if you only communicate downwards, you will fail.
- Extracted from The Path to Change: Thoughts on Politics and Society by Pope Francis with Dominique Wolton. Published by Bluebird, £20 hardbook, £16.99 eBook.