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Would the Real Pope Please Stand


Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?

The Argentine cardinal who 500 days ago became Pope Francis? Why, from a journalistic perspective, do we know so little about someone who talks so much?

Extracts of the interview with journalist Pablo Calvo published last week in Viva, the Sunday color supplement of the Buenos Aires daily newspaper El Clarín, to mark the pope’s first 500 days in office does not provide an answer.

The July 27, 2014, article (the eleventh the pope has given to the press since assuming office – ten of these to secular newspapers) has received widespread coverage in the Spanish-language media. But save for the Catholic press, the interview has not been given much play in the Anglosphere. 

That is a shame, for there are nuggets of journalistic gold buried in the El Clarín story. Yet the newspaper fails to unearth them, preferring to frame the story in soft focus. What El Clarín does report suggests the pope is adapt at playing back to interviewers what they want or expect to hear. Or has El Clarín cherry-picked those portions of its interview with Francis to present to the world what it believes is the essence of the Argentine pope?

The result is that what was left unsaid in this interview is more interesting, and more important, than what was said.

The National Catholic Register opened its report on the interview with this summary:

In a new interview published in Argentina Sunday, Pope Francis has given a 10-point plan for happiness, which includes giving oneself to others, spending Sundays with family, helping unemployed youth find work and letting others “live and let live.”

He also commends Sweden for giving asylum to a large number of immigrants, criticizes the destruction of the environment and stresses that peacemaking requires action, not passivity.

The Catholic News Service translated the pope’s 10 lessons for happy living as:

1. “Live and let live.”
2. “Be giving of yourself to others.”
3. “Proceed calmly” in life.
4. Have “a healthy sense of leisure.”
5. “Sunday is for family.”
6. Be “creative” with young people and find innovative ways to create dignified jobs.
7. Respect and take care of nature.
8. Stop being negative. “Letting go of negative things quickly is healthy,” he said.
9. “The worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes.”
10. Work for peace. “We are living in a time of many wars,” he said. “The call for peace must be shouted.”

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