Advice to the Christian faithful in the Roman Catholic community worldwide is encapsulated in the first book of the Holy Father as Pontiff, entitled “The Name of God is Mercy: A Conversation with Andrea Tornielli,” published in translation without the subtitle by Bluebird Books, translated by Oonagh Stransky, and is already available at Amazon. Extracts of the book were published for the first time on 10 January in the Sunday Telegraph, in London.
Writing very honestly about his own failings, Pope Francis explains that had the circumstances of his life growing up in Buenos Aires, Argentina been only slightly different he might have been incarcerated himself, rather than having been selected by his fellow Cardinals as Pope.
Treading on a new horizon of emphasis, the Pontiff reminds Roman Catholics that the Church “does not exist to condemn people,” noting that discernment of virtue entails a wide range of moral practices, not only those pertaining to the expression of one’s sexuality.
Springing from a long interview that took place last year with one of his biographers, the journalist Andrea Tornielli, of La Stampa, the book is an extension of his inauguration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, as a means of challenging the notion of the Church’s image as an extremely stern and uncompromising moral judge, in favor of an effort to imitate the “infinite mercy of God” with their fellow brothers and sisters here on Earth, rather than to sit in constant judgement of one another.
“The Church does not exist to condemn people but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy … I like to use the image of a field hospital to describe this ‘Church that goes forth’. It exists where there is combat. It is not a solid structure with all the equipment where people go to receive treatment for both small and large infirmities. It is a mobile structure that offers first aid and immediate care, so that its soldiers do not die. It is a place for urgent care, not a place to see a specialist.”
When queried in 2013 about the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality, The Pope replied: “Who am I to judge?” In the book he expands upon this position very instructively, stressing once again that morality covers a very wide area of prospective fallibility including corruption relating to financial interactions as well as social interactions; and even in that area there are countless examples of hypocrisy, and the kind of false pride that separates oneself from one’s fellow man and from God. The antidote to this approach is the kindness and compassion demonstrated by Jesus, Himself, in what was said and done before life was cut short, for reasons very much akin to exhibitions of insecurity manifested through fear, in pride and jealousy and in anger.
The Holy Father speaks about his concern for prisoners:
“I have always been very attached to them, precisely because of my awareness of being a sinner. Every time I go through the gates into a prison to celebrate Mass or for a visit, I always think: why them and not me? I should be here. I deserve to be here.”
For those who are observing this Pontiff’s outreach of compassion where he has been welcomed warmly in his visits to far-away places: to Brazil, to Israel, to Jordan, to Palestine, to South Korea, to Albania, to France, to Turkey, to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, to Bosnia and Herzegovina, to Ecuador and Paraguay, to Cuba and the United States, to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic.
The optimistic view of Pope Francis is contagious, and has extended beyond Roman Catholics, and even beyond Christians, to those of other faiths and to unbelievers, as well, who recognize an honest concern for the dignity of all human beings in what he says and in what he does.
Extracts from the book “The Name of God is Mercy” are available through the Sunday Telegraph here.