'LIFE’ by Pope Francis

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

In a book that was newly released, Pope Francis tells the story of his life for the first time. Fittingly, the title of the book is “LIFE: My Story through History” published by Harper Collins, Italia, 2024.

In the Italian version, the author is Papa Francesco Bergoglio. The book reviews the life of Pope Francis in two ways. Each of the 14 chapters and the Introduction begins with a narrative that reviews the events that have made their mark on humanity for the last 80 years. In the same chapter, there is a narrative in the first person where Pope Francis tells the story of the major highlights of his life during that period. For example, in Chapter 3, the title is “Atom Bombs and the End of the War.” So the opening narrative talks about the celebration during the surrender on Sept. 2, 1945 that marked the end of all hostilities everywhere. At the same time, it talked about the 200,000 dead and the 150,000 injured by the two atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the first-person narrative by Pope Francis, he talked about his thoughts on what happened in Japan and how it must never happen again. At the same time, he narrates that it was at the age of 12 during this period that he first sensed his vocation as a priest. This was the same pattern and structure throughout the book.

Because of the way that the book was structured as stories, it made the book highly readable. For those planning to read the book, I must warn them not to expect any deep theological discourse.

However, it will highlight the origin of the ideas that have characterized the papacy of Pope Francis. In the book’s Introduction, there is a portion that would explain the structure of the book. In the opening narrative, Pope Francis declares that humans are storytelling beings that “from childhood, we hunger for stories, just as we hunger for food. Stories influence our lives whether in the form of fairy tales, novels, films, songs, news, even if we do not always realize it.”

This book also explains the reason that Pope Francis has taken a strong stand against poverty, destruction of the environment and the fight against inequality. The pontiff wrote: “LIFE came to light so that young people in particular might listen to the voice of an old man and reflect on what our planet has lived through so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past... Let us think about the genocides, the oppression, the hatred between brothers and sisters of different faiths. What suffering! Having reached a certain age, I know it is important that we too reopen the book of memory and make remembrance in order to learn by looking back in time, to rediscover the things we have experienced that are not good, that are toxic, as well as the sins we have committed but also to relive everything the good Lord has sent us. It is an exercise in discernment that we should all carry out before it is too late.”

Among the many beliefs that Pope Francis discusses in the book, I just want to highlight two. The first is when he talks about the need to rethink the present economic model which is capitalism and to combat the increasing inequality in the world. He also talks about the need to overcome the indifference to the “poor and discarded.” He talks about a new economic model based on fairness, which is an economy “that is inclusive and humanizing, that takes care of creation, instead of plundering it.”

He also quotes from his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” (“Brothers and Sisters All”): “The right of some to free enterprise or market freedom cannot supersede the rights of people and the dignity of the poor.”

The other belief that Pope Francis talked about is the destruction of the environment. He says that there is not much time to save the planet and he has praises for the young people going out in the streets to protest against the sins committed on the environment.

There are many other human stories that Pope Francis talks about. There are the people who have influenced his life and surprisingly, these are people who are ordinary and not intellectuals nor theologians.

The other major event in his life was when he was made head of the Jesuit Province of Argentina and was suddenly replaced. He did not explain the circumstances but only said: “I was en destierro [banishment], exiled as a punishment and my situation had changed completely; I had led the Jesuit Province of Argentina, I had held posts with big responsibility and now I was back as an ordinary confessor, a beautiful and very important office.”

I think Pope Francis was trying to say that during those two years of exile which meant returning to being an ordinary priest, he considered the priesthood an important office.

He never explained in his book why he was punished.

Pope Francis’ real name was Jorge Mario Bergoglio born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Dec. 17, 1936, the son of Italian immigrants.

This is a beautiful and must reading for Catholics and non-Catholics, for those whose lives have somehow been touched by Pope Francis.

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