ROME – Given that Spanish journalist Eva Fernandez is acknowledged by colleagues as one of the nicest people who regularly travels with Pope Francis, it came as little surprise to most people that she’s written a book titled The Pope of Tenderness, collecting some of the most memorable tender moments of the Argentine pontiff.
No surprise, that is, to anyone but the book’s subject.
“I was pleasantly surprised that you are writing a book about tenderness, the revolution of tenderness,” Francis said in a personal letter to Fernandez included in the book. “I’m sure it will do a lot of good.”
El Papa de la Ternura will be released in Spain June 4th. Featuring several tear-inducing moments, the book collects concrete gestures the pope has delivered since the beginning of his pontificate that express his tenderness, which he once described as “love that becomes close and concrete.”
Each of the 14 chapters narrates examples. They include an embrace Francis gave in 2013 to Vinicio, a disfigured Italian man suffering from a rare genetic disorder, as well as the pope’s private meetings with survivors of clerical sexual abuse on Fridays.
The book also goes through some of the unexpected phone calls the pope has made, including one to Fernandez herself, which began with an apology for the fact that it had taken him a month to answer a letter she had handed to him during a papal trip.
The book is available for pre-order online here.
“Today’s culture tends to forget about this attitude that is so evangelical,” Francis wrote in his letter to Fernandez.
“Already in the Old Testament our Father God presents himself with gestures of love and tenderness for his people, shows himself as mother and father, and continuously says ‘Do not be afraid, for I am with you,’ and by saying this, he caresses [his people] very tenderly, as if they were a baby, because he knows it is the smallest of the peoples, the ‘little worm’ of Israel.”
“Jesus goes on with the same feelings and gestures, he emphasizes them more and moves us with them: it is not enough for him to resuscitate a girl, but he adds the advice that they give her something to eat; he does not consider it enough to resurrect the only child of a widow, but, taking him by the hand, returns him to his mother; not only does he takes over the pain of a family and resuscitates his friend, but, before, he also cries with them,” Francis wrote in the letter.
“Today, we are used to ‘discarding’ values and people, healthy and sick, young and old, to the point that we can refer to our civilization as a ‘throwaway culture,’ how good it is for us to remember that God manifests also with gestures of tenderness, gestures that are habitual in his way of acting,” Francis wrote.
“How good it will be for us to recover the effectiveness of the caress children ask for and respond to, [replacing] the culture of dispensable and throwaway with the revolution of tenderness!” he writes, before asking Fernandez to pray for him.
A second foreword comes from Greg Burke, a veteran American journalist who served as Francis’s spokesman. According to Burke, who resigned last year, Fernandez manages to capture the pope down to a “T.”
Of his former boss, Burke writes that Francis is a man who’s “given life to the word ‘tenderness’.”
“He’s a giant who leaves his skin in the smallest ones; a man who becomes holy becoming one with the weakest; who’s afraid of neither tears nor hugs,” the American writes. “His tenderness in gestures overflows from something much deeper: underneath each caress, each knee bent in front of Christ’s flesh, there’s a Francis who knows how to love like Jesus, who guides the Church with authenticity and bravery.”
Burke also says that if he had to choose “one case of tenderness” when it comes to Francis, it would be his “predilection for people with Down Syndrome.”
Burke, together with his deputy, Spaniard Paloma Garcia Ovejero, fought for months to get Alice, a young woman with Down Syndrome, to work at the Vatican’s press office, but bureaucracy was getting in the way. As he puts it, “Paloma went through the entire Vatican administration, and there was no way [to hire Alice], it was too complicated, a novelty.”
The former spokesman mentioned it to his boss, who said “Insist. Vai avanti,” meaning, keep going. “Soon after, the bureaucratic barriers disappeared and, in a matter of weeks, Alice began working with us, the partner who taught us not to be afraid of tenderness. And it was because of him,” Burke wrote.
Fernandez has been in Rome since 2016, working for COPE, the radio of the Spanish bishops’ conference and one of the country’s most popular outlets. She came to the Eternal City to replace Garcia Ovejero and has traveled with Francis on 16 opportunities, including his current visit to Romania.
On Friday, while in the air, she gave the pope a gift from students in Navarra in northern Spain, representing the Way of Santiago, a traditional pilgrimage that can take several weeks as it criss-crosses the entire country, retracing the steps of St. James on his way to Santiago de Compostela. The year 2021 will be a jubilee year for the Camino, and Fernandez told Francis it would be a good opportunity for him to visit Spain, something he’s yet to do.
Jokingly, the pope asked, “Do I have to do the Camino too?”
Misión cumplida: al #Papa le ha encantado el regalo de los jóvenes de la Pastoral Juvenil de la Universidad Pública de #Navarra.
Le pedían comentar “Christus Vivit” con ellos en #España.
-Recuerde que 2021 es #AñoSantoCostelano
-¿Tendré que hacer el Camino?
-¡Estaríamos felices! pic.twitter.com/UINvEBTKuS
— Eva Fernández (@evaenlaradio) May 31, 2019
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
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