Pope Francis: The Year of Mercy
This book comes just after the celebrated U.S. visit of Pope Francis (born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina), the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Previous books in this series of photographs and quotes include Francis: The People’s Pope and Pope Francis and the Virgin Mary, all of them expertly edited by Vincenzo Sansonetti who has written for some of Italy’s major periodicals, including Avvenire, Oggi, and Il Timone.
Following Archbishop Rino Fisichella’s informed and intimate introduction, “Mercy is an Encounter,” Sansonetti documents the occasions for the quotes and explains the selection process and their chronological arrangement. However, he has also provided an index at the back arranged around subject or theme. Sanconetti notes that Pope Francis has made mercy a central theme of his life and his popeship, most recently declaring next year as the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.
Pope Francis, who is an excellent writer and orator, explains the intent of his focusing on physical and spiritual mercy: “Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the strange, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead.” Much to his credit, he has put these values into action in his humble and humbling practice of living without wealth and majesty, and opening the church to immigrants, the homeless, and the world’s poor.
There are no explanatory notes for the reader, and the simplicity and directness of the quotes makes it unnecessary. What there is, is a beautiful array of color photographs of this pope carrying out what he declares—touching children, laughing with nuns, bowing his head in prayer, reaching out to others. The photos are not a direct match with the quotes, but serve as a kind of intimate look at the character of their speaker.
The pope comes across as not a politician or calculating diplomat, but as a man of morals. And yet he does not judge or exclude. He tells us how “we are putting into practice the commandment of love that Jesus bequeathed to us when he identified with the foreigner, with those who are suffering, with all the innocent victims of violence and exploitation.”
Repeatedly he comes back to his strong sense of society today and the need to affirm. “We are a society that has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion—‘suffering with’ others; the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!”
Though the inclusion of all-too-short “tweet” quotes is somewhat bothersome, most quotations form part of a page and give the reader pause for contemplation. The book may be presented in a coffee table kind of format, but perhaps the bedroom or the study offer better places for finding deeper rewards. Pope Francis: The Year of Mercy is a tribute and a blessing.