(This article originally appeared in The Boston Globe)
ROME – A veteran Latin American prelate and one of two members from the continent on Pope Francis’ council of cardinal advisors says the pontiff today is a changed man, coming off as far more “communicative” and “approachable” than the “shy” Archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina he once knew.
“After he was elected pope, a cardinal mentioned this visible change to [Pope Francis],” said Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa.
The Chilean prelate said the pope acknowledged the transformation, and told the cardinal: “It’s true. I believe the Holy Spirit has changed me.”
Errázuriz spoke to the Globe Thursday, while in Rome for a meeting of a council of cardinal advisors with the pontiff.
The 80-year-old Errázuriz served as president of the Latin American bishops’ conference when they met in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007, producing a document laying out a vision for a more missionary church. The lead author was the future pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, so the two men know one another well.
Yet Errázuriz said that in some ways the pontiff has been a revelation even to him.
“I’m surprised by his gestures,” Errázuriz said. “They place him so close to the people.”
“There’s no doubt that many of the bishops saw this man as one of a profound faith, but also as someone shy,” he said, implying that’s hardly the case anymore.
Errázuriz and the other cardinals who serve on the pope’s council met with Francis starting on Tuesday, working this week toward a redesign of the Vatican’s government, including the Secretariat of State, which is responsible both for diplomatic relations and internal administration, as well as the “Vatican Bank”.
The laity and the family, specifically the contribution that married couples and women can make to the Church, were also on their agenda.
Errázuriz said the council of cardinals is intended to bring the voices of the peripheries of the world to the Vatican, insisting that “the Church is not only Rome.”
Errázuriz spoke to the Globe on reform of Church governance, the plurality of voices included in the council, and one of the pope’s favorite pastimes: soccer. He responded in Spanish to questions submitted via e-mail, and the following are translated excerpts.
Globe: What’s your vision for the future of Church governance?
Errázuriz: All of us want for it to be seen as an entity that serves the pope’s ministry and that helps him promote evangelization in the Church and from the Church, with a spirit of communion and participation. We also hope that many bishops, in an example of solidarity, send excellent priests to work on it, so it can have a clear international spirit, which is capable of reflecting the church’s universality.
Globe: What’s the impact of cardinals who come from the world’s peripheries on reform of governance?
Errázuriz: The choice the pope made when he called cardinals who come from the “periphery” belongs to his desire to respond to the suggestions he received from prelates from around the world during the meetings held during the days prior to the conclave. The Church is not only Rome. It grows with an amazing number of shepherds from all the continents that serve the church in communion with Peter’s successor.
This is the fifth time the G8 is meeting with Pope Francis, but little is known of what happens between your trips to Rome. Can you tell us about the day-to-day job of the council?
Errázuriz: Before we leave Rome, we agree on the topics to be discussed in the next session. Normally, each cardinal prepares one or two topics that are then discussed via email and exposed at length during the meetings. The Holy Father sometimes adds topics that he believes are pressing issues. This happened, for example, after we heard proposals from economic experts and the pope requested we analyzed them urgently to propose the most pertinent solution. A few days after that, he created the Secretariat for the Economy and appointed Cardinal George Pell to lead it.
Globe: During the first 18 months of his pontificate, Francis shocked the world countless times. Having known the then cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio and having worked with him in Aparecida and through the CELAM (the Latin-American episcopal conference), do you share the surprise or is he what you were expecting?
Errázuriz: Cardinal Bergoglio was the coordinator of the welcoming commission and was the head of the group that had to write the final document of the encounter celebrated seven years ago in the shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida. Those conclusions are a treasure that he carries in his heart. Some of those, he took as God’s gift for him and the church. I’m sure there are other conclusions that are a result of his own pastoral experience, undoubtedly blessed by God. Knowing this, many of his words aren’t new for me.
But I am surprised by his gestures. They place him so close to the people, and he is always so cordial. His love for sobriety, simplicity and poverty is also new to me. I have to admit that in Aparecida he wasn’t as communicative nor did he seem so approachable. There is no doubt that many of the bishops saw this man as one of a profound faith, but also as someone shy. After he was elected pope, a cardinal mentioned this visible change to him. And Francis answered: “It’s true. I believe the Holy Spirit has changed me”.
Globe: Lastly, much is being said about the pope and the soccer. During your days in Rome you stayed with Francis. Can you tell us if he’s been watching the World Cup?
Errázuriz: I wouldn’t know how to answer that question. But there’s a fun comic vignette circulating in Rome that showed various members of the Swiss Guard, the small army that historically protects the pope, watching the Argentina-Switzerland match, with the pope close behind praying and asking God for mercy. We had fun with it.