A deeply spiritual man who is close to the people.
But also a leader, an independent man who doesn’t escape decisions.
The Archbishop of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, paints a portrait of Pope Francis’ personality and gives an analysis of the election of the first Vicar of Christ “from the other side of the world” in this interview with Vatican Insider.
How did the Latin American Pope come to be elected?
“Cardinals were anxious for Benedict XVI’s successor to be a Latin American; it was a sort of fixed idea among U.S. cardinals as well. An “anti-Italian” sentiment seemed to grow among them. I don’t know where this came from and I do not share it, but this sentiment even spread to Italian cardinals. This, combined with the Catholic influence in Latin America, meant a cardinal from this region was an obvious choice.
Why was he elected?
“He is a man of few words, a simple and deeply spiritual man. We will all slowly discover his ability for contemplation and his almost mystical spirit. He also has a very strong personality: he is someone who is capable of taking decisions, he is independent, a man of action and at the same time someone who has always loved the basic things in life. I believe he will take decisions and lead the Church onto the path of prayer. This is who he is and he is going to show it. This is as far as gestures are concerned. In terms of doctrine I think there will be continuity with John Paul II and Benedict XVI.”
So he will be able to make good choices?
“I think so; we will pray for him. He will make decisions but he still needs time; but he will not start revolutions.”
Many do see him as a revolutionary…
“We mustn’t try to fit the Pope into an ideological model; he is completely beyond this. He presented the idea of a poor Church for the poor but he cannot be interpreted within an ideological framework such as that of liberation theology. This would not do justice to a man of such intellectual depth as Bergoglio, whose love of Christ takes him back to the early sources of the Christian spirit.”
Some critics say his gestures show an intention to “deconsecrate” the papacy: is this so?
“We must not confuse the Pope’s natural way with people, with his responsibilities as Vicar of Christ. I think he is very clear about the distinction between the two things. He does not intend to deconsecrate, his actions are just simple. It’s not easy being a prisoner of protocol which leads you to say: “Don’t take away my freedom!” He is a profoundly free man and with everyone’s help he will continue along the right path. The people want the Pope to be close to them, but they also want the Pope’s ministry.”
Will Francis’ election carry any political weight in Latin America?
“The Pope has already told journalists that the Church’s mission is not political. The Latin American Church undoubtedly forms part of our culture, but there are political movements who try to separate people from their traditions. Sometimes these politicians try to rip out our people’s Catholic roots. The Pope’s presence should give us a greater sense of responsibility and joy when we see the current reaction of politicians to the present Pope.”
When John Paul II was elected, his very presence sparked fear within the Polish political class. Will any high-level figures in Latin America be trembling?
“We mustn’t let politicians think we are afraid. I actually think we need to defend Latin America’s legacy of faith. The Pope will do so I am sure. He will defend the family, marriage between men and women and the Church’s right to religious education. He will reinforce the spiritual well that is our land, against the trends of secularism and hostility which just bring conflict. Francis places a lot of importance on coherence; if you pray and believe in the sacraments, how can you steal? How can you leave your wife, lie or kill? The Pope will be able to reiterate this with an abundance of mercy, using a language that is direct and credible.”
Will he go on a grand tour of Latin America?
“I have invited him to Peru, but I can understand it is not quite time yet to expect a response. After Easter he will have to form a team and decide whether he will travel or not. What is certain is that this unexpected election brings some new elements to the table: authenticity of faith, mystique and a lack of fear. With everyone’s help, Francis can become a blessing for the Church; our Latin American joy is combine with our duty to help him carry out his mission.”