As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis emphasized a pastoral concern for the poor and the role of the laity, according to an Opus Dei priest in Buenos Aires who once directed Vatican Information Service.
The Pope “always saw the people who live in the slums from a different point of view” from promoters of liberation theology, said Father Pedro Brunori. “His interest wasn’t in resolving structural problems with the economy, but helping these people address the concrete problems of their lives. It was a pastoral perspective.”
“One can certainly understand the great injustices that gave rise to liberation theology, but sometimes it was missing the dimension of personal charity, of concern for the concrete person in front of you,” Father Bruroni told journalist John Allen. “That’s the sense in which I think the Pope tried to orient the pastoral work in the slums of Buenos Aires. His idea was the every single one of those people ought to interest the Church, equally. He actually walked in these places.”
“He spoke about the importance of the laity a great deal, though without confusing laity with priests,” Father Brunori added. “He didn’t want to ‘clericalize’ the laity. His primary interest wasn’t in having more lay ministers of communion, or things like that. He wanted everyone in their proper place, doing the things that pertained to their area.”
After discussing the Pope’s simple and direct leadership style and willingness to delegate, the priest also spoke of the Pope’s willingness to hear confessions.
“More than once, someone would call him up and say, ‘I’m sick, I need a priest to say Mass for me,’” Father Brunori recounted. “He’d tell them not to worry, I’ll take care of it, and he’d go to say the Mass himself. Sometimes he’d bring another priest, while he heard confessions. For him, confession is about the mercy of God. There are a lot of parishes in Buenos Aires, and they sometimes don’t have enough priests to hear confessions. Quite often, he would go and do it himself, while a priest celebrated the Mass. He would also go to hear confessions in the slums.”
In recent days, Allen has also interviewed others who know the Pope, including the archdiocesan spokesman, the Pope’s sister, and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee.
“I was raised in a kind of Catholicism that was very spiritual on one side, praying and going to Mass and the sacraments, but on the other side it was also very socially minded, interested in helping the poor and meeting the concrete needs of the people,” says Nobel nominee Juan Carr. “Here in Argentina, for this generation, Bergoglio has been the one who brought these two dimensions of the faith together – the spiritual and the social.”
“He wanted to promote the idea of a missionary Church, a Church that gets out into the streets,” said Federico Wals, his spokesman. “He was especially concerned for those about whom society didn’t seem to care, such as single mothers, the poor, the elderly, the unemployed. His main concern was how to get the Church to move towards those who need it the most, who aren’t perceived as ‘useful’ by society. He wanted the Church to make them a priority.”
“One of the biggest decisions Bergoglio made, which is one he may make in the Vatican too, was that everything financial would be handled through private banks,” added Wals, who believes Pope Francis will close the Vatican Bank.