Francis: Man of Prayer by Mario Escobar
This new biography of the present Pope, Francis, is a foray into the background, life, ministry and election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. The author, Mario Escobar has written an insightful and illuminating biography of Francis. Breaking the book up into three larger section, Escobar deals with Francis’ early life, his ministry as a Cardinal and the major challenges that he faces in a global world. What I thought was impressive about this biography was the way in which Escobar brought to life the details about Bergoglio’s early life that would carry through for the rest of the book.
Early on Escobar writes of Francis, “The Argentine adolescent learned the value of work, and his work ethic has made him indefatigable” (7). This boundless energy that Francis has exhibits itself in his care for the poor and his service to the church. There is never a sense of pride that looks at where he came from and the position he has as a demonstration that he has made it to the big time. Rather, rather the good rearing of his family helped make him a humble servant of Christ and the church. Furthermore, missionary work struck a chord with Francis from the very beginning, initially coming from the Jesuits missions in Japan and elsewhere (12-13). It was this kind of service, hard work in the difficult areas of the cities that compelled Francis to fully pursue ordination with the Society of Jesus.
The rise of Bergoglio’s popularity was a gradual one. Even in some of the local Argentinian papers, Bergoglio wasn’t considered a primary candidate for the papacy. But as time wore on, three things that came out in his acceptance speech won him over with many of the cardinals: namely, his belief in the universality of the church, his placing the people and the bishops on a similar level and the fervency of his prayers for the renewal of the Church (107). Some of the cardinals certainly knew of his radical bent on social and issues of justice, but rather than focus on what might happen if he was elected they looked at his heart. Part of the great need for the Catholic church in the Americas is a renewal of spiritual intensity and belief, for which Francis has devoted his whole life to. Taking the name of Francis made it clear to everyone that, “He would break with the ostentation and show of Rome that had done so much damage to the image of the church and the poor…” (105). Francis made it clear that the show of Rome would not overshadow his life as a servant of the poor and of the universal church.
Countering modern day values of materialism and prosperity, Francis yields to a higher authority that satisfies him much more, namely Christ. Writing of Francis, “His greatness lies in his simplicity together with his great wisdom, his sympathy together with his seriousness..” (119). He is able to talk freely to anyone yet bring forth uncanny wisdom about God’s world, including wisdom diverse as creation care to the plight of the oppressed. Francis will be a bit of fresh air for many who have thought the Catholic Church has gone astray. In his vigorous faith, Francis still faces some perilous issues ranging from the priest scandals to homosexuality, and even issues that concern the best way to help the poor.
Escobar’s book was a good look at the upbringing, life and ministry of Pope Francis. I thought he could have brought out some more information the various factions in Argentina during his life, but overall I think he did a good job at covering Francis’ life.
Thanks to Book Sneeze and Thomas Nelson for the complimentary copy of this book in exchange for review.