Category: Pope Francis


Conflict

AMDG

When we were Jesuit novices we read the autobiography of St Ignatius together. It was explained to us that Ignatius had been badgered for years to write down about his life.  It was only when he life was coming to an end that he agreed to do so and dictated his memoirs to Luis Gonsalves de Camara, a young Portuguese Jesuit.  In an age of hagiographical writing, were saints lives were often written with an undue reverence, and sometimes it was difficult to get to the history underneath the exaggerations, Ignatius was keen that his autobiography would show young Jesuits how he had learned from his mistakes and how God had patiently accompanied him through times of excessive zeal and superficial outward displays of ‘holiness’ and ‘penance’.

It seems that the first Jesuit Pope wishes to follow in his footsteps.  Whether he is talking about his time of painful ‘inner purification‘ in Cordoba in 1991, or his period of ‘therapy’ after stepping down as Provincial in the 70’s.  In 2013 he sent a letter to a Brazilian priest, Fr Alexandre Awi, who had acted as his interpreter on his first foreign visit as pope, to Rio de Janeiro. Discussing the ‘culture of encounter’ which as Pope he is so eager to promote, he talks about the traumatic experience of his mother’s side of his family where there was a lot of conflicts,  “In my family there was a long history of disagreements: uncles, cousins, fought and separated. As a child, I cried a great deal in secret when these fights were talked about or when we could see a new one coming. Sometimes I offered a sacrifice or a penance to try to prevent them occurring. It hurt me a lot. Thank God that at home Dad, Mom and my five brothers lived in peace…. I think that this marked me a lot as a kid and created in my heart the desire that people stopped fighting, that they stay together. And at least if they fight they are friends…. I am bit embarrassed after rereading what I wrote, but I think that in this story there is a germ of what over the years and in a conceptual way I called “Culture of the encounter”. It’s a craving that I’ve been since I was a boy” You can read excerpts of the letter here on the website Portaluz (in Spanish) – Link.

Understanding conflict and turning it into a creative experience has been a life-long concern of Jorge Bergoglio before he became Pope Francis.  His unpublished PHD is on the Italian- German priest philosopher Romano Guardini and his 1925 work, ‘Der Gegensatz’ (Contrast).  For Guardini contrast did not necessarily mean contradiction. He was interested in the whole range of human life: art, politics, ethics, religion,  science, in particular, the emerging field of psychology. Guardini’s thinking lead him to a deeper type of wisdom about the mystery of Life. He had a vision that gives things space, where opposites are brought together, the same space from where they emanate and where they return – which he called God.  The younger Bergoglio was particularly interested in how individuals related to groups, especially after his difficult experience as provincial and was attracted to Guardini’s thinking.  Understanding conflict, not being threatened by it, wanting to engage creatively with it but also realising how destructive it could be – as he recently said in his meeting with the Schoenstatt movement.

AMDG

Clayton M Christensen, in 1995, coined the phrase disruptive technology.  These are innovations often produced by an outsider which changes the market, or the way we do things. So for instance in academia, whose currency is the transmission of knowledge – Wikipedia is a disruptive technology, open source, peer-edited,  free access to knowledge, which led to the demise of many traditional encyclopedias that were being produced.  You can think of many other examples digital photography and the demise of Kodak, Uber challenging the taxi industry, Amazon and bookshops, Netflix and the film industry etc.  Christensen as a Mormon comes from a tradition that encourages the innovation of outsiders.

The Gospels of Jesus Christ are meant to be disruptive – this is an outsider the religious power system built around the Temple in Jerusalem.  Whoever is benefitting from the status-quo and the so-called reforming Pharisees.  There are many stories in the Gospels, that haven’t lost their ability to disrupt our complacency…. ideologies can rise and fall, Corbynism will come and go…. but the Gospels seem to have an incredible longevity, perpetually fresh. The poor man at the rich man’s gate (Luke 16) feels very contemporary especially if you have had to pick your way through one of the tented shanty towns that are growing up in some of our towns and cities to get to mass to hear it.    But if we are honest in modern urban life we are developing more sophisticated coping mechanisms to insulate us against feeling uncomfortable.

Pope Francis is a disruptive leader – he is not uncomfortable with the poor, and aware of the isolating danger of wealth he is constantly challenging us to have a deep attentiveness to the poor.  When he was Archbishop in Buenos Aires he would spend his ‘time off’ famously drinking matte with the people in the many slums in the capital city, whereas the wealthy denizens of  Buenos Aires northern suburbs felt snubbed when he showed no interest in attending the receptions, dinner parties, book launches that a bishop would be expected to frequent.  His disruptive leadership would explain why the fiercest critics and resistance is found within the church. As Austen Ivereigh pointed out in some of the ‘disruption’ a fine line has been crossed between disagreement and dissent .  It should be no surprise those who he rattles the most are comfortable with the status quo, on the other hand, Francis is always searching for the lost sheep.  In contrast to Pope Francis, Forbes argues persuasively that Donald Trump leadership is not as a dedicated disruptor but more likely a creator of chaos.

AMDG

One of the most under-reported stories in the new year was a good-news-one,  surprise, surprise (we are not interested in good stories)!  2017 was the safest year in commercial air travel with no deaths reported, despite there being more flights than ever before. This is incredible considering 3.77bn people flew last year, it marks a consistent rise since 2010 which shows no signs of slowing down.  This amazing pace of growth creates all sorts of stresses on the industry, with Ryan Air struggling to recruit enough pilots, Easy Jet accused of over-scheduling, but it is quite a relief that it doesn’t seem to affect safety standards.

It made me think of a book I read a couple of years ago – ‘Black Box Thinking’ by the British author Matthew Syed. He suggests that the commercial airline industry can be held up as a model of continual and successful reform.  His basic thesis is that the air travel is becoming one of the safest ways of travelling because of the way the industry learns every time there is a terrible crash.  The Black Box in an aircraft typically contains a data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder.  The data recorder preserves the recent history of the flight through the recording of dozens of parameters collected several times per second,  the voice recorder preserves the recent history of the sounds in the cockpit, including the conversation of the pilots.  So it is a record of that complex interaction between technology and humans – and facilitates a post-disaster investigation. Syed basically argues this means that the airline industry has been able to constantly make reforms that make it safer for all of us to fly.  This is compared to the medical profession which is very resistant to reform because of consultants and surgeon’s tendency to cover up mistakes.

I think it is a fascinating book because it is about learning from failure, which Syed argues is the most powerful method of learning known to mankind. Black Box thinkers have a healthy relationship with failure he argues.  This is what makes Pope Francis such a compelling and authentic leader.  From 1990-1991 he was missioned by his provincial, to work for a year and a half in Cordoba, central Argentina.  He was sent there as a form of ‘internal exile’ because he was seen as being a divisive figure and they wanted him ‘out of the way’. There are interesting articles about this time in The Atlantic and also covered by CNN.  Since then Pope Francis has referred to that year and a half as an ‘inner purification’, certainly it was a time of honing his leadership skills and some of his writings from this time are real gems.   He often talks about a book that made a big impression on him by an American Jesuit, John Navone, called ‘Triumph through Failure‘, an interesting exposition of the ‘Theology of the Cross’.  Certainly, it was a time of enduring for Bergoglio, until  Cardinal Quaraccino, the then head of the church in Argentina, surprised by how he was being treated, went to Rome and asked Pope John Paul II to directly request that he become an auxiliary bishop in Buenos Aires.  The Pope’s intervention trumped the Jesuit vow against taking office in the church …. and the rest, they say, is history.