Pope Francis’s pastoral revolution, two years on

While in Dublin recently, I stopped by the Jesuit community at Milltown to meet a man who had once taught Scripture in a huge college outside Buenos Aires, which was at that time run by the man who is now pope.

Father James Kelly recalls the regime at the Colegio Maximo in the early 1980s with awe, but with mixed feelings. ”

I had never seen anything like it,” he told me. It was intense, austere and insular, but deeply rooted in spiritual discipline and a focused pastoral action aimed at raising the lives of the poor.

Not only did Bergoglio have a clear vision, said Father Kelly, but he was “dynamic enough to put it into practice.”

The regime at the Maximo – as Francis himself confessed in an interview after becoming pope – was authoritarian. Father Kelly describes it as “monolithic.”

But it was also – as I describe in my biography of Pope Francis – compelling, exciting and deeply attractive to a whole generation of new vocations that filled the colegio.

Over the years, Father Kelly has thought often about Bergoglio’s vision – the intense prayer and pastoral focus at the college – and reflected that “maybe there was truth in what he was doing.”

Sure, there was too little freedom, and it was too dependent on the charisma of one extraordinary leader.

Yet despite its faults, at a time when the Society of Jesus worldwide was struggling, he believes, Bergoglio “had the vision that others were forgetting.”

What was that vision? “Everything was encased in this spiritual framework,” the Irish Jesuit recalls.

In much of the Church at the time – and particularly among the Jesuits – the social came first: the yardstick to measure your Christianity was your commitment to changing unjust structures.

For Bergoglio, on the other hand, “the social had to flow from the religious.” Continue reading

Austen Ivereigh is a British writer, journalist and commentator on religious and political affairs who holds a doctorate from Oxford University.

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